Why back pain gets worse when bending over, and what to do about it

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
Ask Louise

12 July 2016

Back pain when bending over

In most cases it is unusual to experience back pain all day every day – for many, it is triggered by something specific. This could be when driving, after playing sport, after sitting for too long, after standing for too long or when bending over or bending down.

There can be a number of reasons why your back may hurt when you bend. This can sometimes be difficult to identify because of the complex nature of the back – it is composed of a wide range of bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons. Pain can come about as a result of injury, exercise or even bad posture.

Why do you get back pain when you bend over?

Bending over is a particularly common cause of back pain. This is because many people bend from hips and waist rather than the knees. This stretches the muscles and ligaments in the back, puts strain on muscles, and causes the discs between your vertebrae to move back.

Without being able to examine your back or find out your medical history, it is hard to identify exactly why your back might hurt, or hurt more, when you bend over. We can, however, provide some suggestions.

  • Back strain occurs when the muscles and ligaments that support the spine become stretched and weakened so they can’t provide the same level of support. Strain can be caused by over exercising, twisting awkwardly, stretching too far or lifting a heavy object incorrectly. These sensitive muscles will hurt when stretched, but the tissue and bone surrounding them will also hurt because they are not being properly supported
  • If you have previously injured your back, whether recently or some time ago, the muscles and ligaments in your back may still be damaged or sensitive. This means that as your back stretches when you bend, these damaged tissues may become irritated and inflamed.
  • Slipped disc. A disc, or more correctly an intervertebral disc, is a pad of tissue that sits between the vertebrae, or bones, of our spine. They give our spine a great level of flexibility and prevent the bones from rubbing together. The movement of discs is natural – as we bend, the spaces between the front of the vertebrae narrow, and the spaces at the back widen. This pushes the disc backwards. Excessive bending can cause these discs to move too far backwards, and they may press on a nerve in your back, causing a sudden painful shock – this is known as a slipped disc. In some cases pain can extend down through the legs or up into the neck.


Strain, injury and slipped discs can often be caused or made worse by too much bending. This could be due to your job, if that involves frequent bending down or crouching, such as a gardener, or even primary school teacher. It could also be caused by your gym habits, for example bending forward to touch your toes or to lift weights. In many cases, your lifestyle can cause you to bend over too much – doing laundry, cleaning, gardening, or looking after children.

What can I do about it?

You should really consult your GP or physiotherapist in the case of back pain, as they will be able to identify the underlying cause. There are, however, some things you can do to relieve back pain once you know its cause.

  • Learn how to bend properly. It may seem silly but there are good and bad ways of bending. Many people bend by keeping their legs relatively straight and bending over at the pelvis and waist. This puts strain and pressure on your back. Instead, bend your knees to lower your whole body down into a squat position, and keep your back straight. This is especially important when lifting heavy objects as it allows the muscles in your legs to help lift, not just the muscles in your back.
  • Strengthen and stretch the muscles in your back and pelvis to give you better support and relieve stiffness. There are many simple exercises that can help with this, like squats or planks. Read our article on exercises for back pain for more information.
  • Try yoga. There are loads of yoga classes specifically tailored to different needs and conditions, and one of the most common is back pain. There are loads of videos on YouTube; have a look at this one for a good example.

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Is there anything else that might help?

Back pain can be a frustrating, debilitating condition so we know how important it is for you to relieve pain as quickly as possible. Arnica gel is great for muscle aches, joint pain, sprains, strain and swelling (not just bruising!). Try Atrogel, an easy-to-apply, non-greasy arnica gel that will relieve your pain quickly, allowing you to focus on exercises and bending technique to solve your back pain in the long term.

For more severe, long term pain, Devil’s claw tablets will be useful, as this herb has been used traditionally for many years to reduce aching muscles and joints, and specifically backache.

A.Vogel Atrosan Devil’s Claw Tablets

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Relieves muscle & joint pain, backache and lumbago. Also available in 60 tablet size.
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