The Joint Ventures' Blog

Do You Have Low Back Pain When You Bend Forward?

Monday, January 07, 2019


Many people come to Joint Ventures with lower back pain when bending forward. Often, they have had X-Rays and MRIs that result in a diagnosis of some joint or tissue damage. Recent research shows that even if an MRI, X-Ray, or other clinical test shows some musculoskeletal change, it does not mean that it is the cause of the lower back pain. In other words, sometimes MRI and X-Ray findings correlate poorly with clinical symptoms. Some people with “horrible” imaging results play high level sports. How is this the case?


Many of us overuse our back muscles when we are bending because we do not know how to engage our muscles correctly to complete the motion. So when someone tries to bend forward, it can become sore and painful. This happens because we are not engaging the smaller muscle groups in our back (for example: our multifidi) whose job it is to improve the control of the bending motion. Also, we are supposed to bend from our hips, not our waists. When done wrong, this often causes pain. But the pain signal is not always a signal of injury; it's your body letting you know that you should not do that movement or position again or an injury may occur.

Here is an example of how to feel this in a different muscle group in your body.

Try bending your hand down while it is relaxed (see the picture below). 


Does it feel strained?  No, right?


Now, try bending your hand down after making and holding a firm fist (see the picture below).

It's uncomfortable, right?  Does this mean you have an injury in your wrist?  No, but the pain receptors in your wrist tell you not to do that movement again or injury could occur.

The same thing happens in your lower back. Because you are using your big muscles in your back so much when bending from your waist, the smaller muscles that control motion become lazy and react too late when you bend forward. This can cause pressure and further damage to your back.

But...good news!  We can fix this by giving you exercises to improve your motor control (the ability to move in a controlled, safe fashion) while bending and lifting. Also, we can focus on other muscle groups in your legs that may not be as strong or flexible as they should be to help improve your movement with day-to-day activities. 

So let’s work on your bending and lifting mechanics instead of worrying about those MRI findings! Come visit us at Joint Ventures and we will help work with you on how to prevent further low back irritation or injury. If you have any questions, please reach out to me, Patricia Chapa, PT, DPT, CSCS, at

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