Medical News Today: Causes of lower back pain when standing or walking

By | June 11, 2019
Lower back pain is very common, so determining an underlying cause may often come down to looking at other symptoms and details. If lower back pain occurs when standing or walking, the pain may be due to muscle fatigue.

Alternatively, it may be from a medical condition, such as one of the following:

  • spinal stenosis
  • degenerative disk disease
  • hyperlordosis

In this article, we look at some potential causes of lower back pain that occur when standing or walking. We also cover when to see a doctor and some prevention tips.

Muscle fatigue

Rest may help relieve lower back pain
Rest may help relieve lower back pain.

Prolonged walking or standing can tire or strain the muscles in the lower back and legs, which can lead to aches and pains.

This pain or discomfort usually gets better with sitting or lying down to rest the back.

People who are overweight may be more at risk for muscle fatigue that occurs when standing or walking.

Treatment

A person can treat muscle fatigue and reduce discomfort in the lower back with:

  • rest
  • hot or cold therapy
  • over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • gentle exercises to stretch and loosen tight muscles

Maintaining a healthy weight can also help reduce stress on the back and legs.

Lumbar spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spine that can place extra pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.

Spinal stenosis often occurs in the lower part of the back, or lumbar spine, where it can lead to lower back pain when walking or standing. People often find that this pain improves with sitting down or leaning forward.

Other symptoms of lumbar spinal stenosis can include:

  • weakness in the legs
  • numbness or tingling in the lower back, buttocks, or legs
  • sciatica, or sharp pain that radiates down the leg

Severe spinal stenosis may lead to bowel and bladder problems and sexual dysfunction.

Spinal stenosis usually occurs as a result of aging and is most common in people over the age of 50 years.

However, some people are born with a narrow spinal canal, and spinal stenosis can also develop following a spinal injury.

Treatment

A doctor may first recommend nonsurgical treatments for people with spinal stenosis. The options may include:

  • physical therapy
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • steroid injections
  • alternative therapies, such as chiropractic treatment or acupuncture

If a person’s pain worsens or does not improve, a doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to stabilize the spine or relieve pressure on the spinal nerves.

Degenerative disk disease

Senior man with lower back pain while standing or walking.
Degenerative disk disease can cause stiffness and pain while standing.

As a person ages, the protective disks that sit between each of the vertebrae in the spine can gradually wear down and shrink. Degeneration of these disks can lead to the bones in the spine rubbing against one another, which may cause back pain and stiffness.

While symptoms of degenerative disk disease often improve with walking, the pain may get worse when a person is standing or twisting, bending, or lifting.

Other symptoms of degenerative disk disease may include:

  • lower back pain that radiates to the buttocks and thighs
  • weakness in the legs or feet
  • back pain that varies in severity and duration

Treatment

Treatment options for degenerative disk disease can include:

  • NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen
  • ice or heat packs
  • physical therapy
  • a back brace

If conservative treatments do improve a person’s symptoms, a doctor may recommend artificial disk replacement or a spinal fusion.

Hyperlordosis

Hyperlordosis is an excessive inward curvature of the lower spine that causes the buttocks to become more prominent and the stomach to stick out.

When lying on their back, a person with hyperlordosis may have a noticeable c-shaped curve or large gap in their lower back area. People sometimes refer to this exaggerated posture as “swayback.”

Hyperlordosis can sometimes also cause pain and discomfort in the lower back, which may affect movement or get worse with prolonged standing.

Hyperlordosis can result from spinal injuries or conditions such as obesity, osteoporosis, spondylolisthesis, and rickets.

Treatment

Treatment options depend on the person’s age and the severity of the curvature and symptoms.

A doctor may recommend that children with hyperlordosis wear a back brace while they are still growing. For adults, a doctor may recommend conservative treatments, such as OTC pain relievers, physical therapy, and weight management.

In rare instances, a doctor may recommend corrective surgery.

When to see a doctor

Lower back pain, when standing or walking, is not always a cause for concern and may get better with home treatment, such as rest, OTC pain relievers, hot and cold therapy, and gentle stretching.

A person should see their doctor if the pain is severe, does not get better, or occurs along with other concerning or debilitating symptoms.

People with lower back pain should seek immediate medical attention if they experience loss of bowel or bladder control or leg movement becomes severely affected.

Prevention tips

Swimming may help strengthen the lower back.
Swimming may help strengthen the lower back.

Some tips to help prevent lower back pain include:

  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Where possible, try doing a mixture of low- and high-intensity physical activities exercises, such as bike riding, walking, aerobics classes, swimming, or using an elliptical machine.
  • Practicing good posture when walking, such as by keeping the back straight and avoiding leaning too far forward or slumping.
  • Making appropriate adjustments to workstations to improve ergonomics. Examples include placing the computer screen at eye level and using a supportive and properly-adjusted chair.
  • Using proper lifting techniques, including holding an object as close as possible to the body, maintaining a wide stance, bending from the legs and not the back, and avoiding lifting objects that are too heavy.
  • Eating a healthful, balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

People who have specific questions or concerns about keeping their back healthy and free from pain should talk with their doctor.

Summary

Lower back pain, when standing or walking, is often a symptom of muscle fatigue or poor posture. People can usually treat this pain at home with rest, OTC pain relievers, hot or cold therapy, and gentle stretching.

Learn how to make a homemade heating pad for pain relief here.

Persistent or recurring lower back pain may be a sign of an underlying condition. These conditions include spinal stenosis, degenerative disk disease, or hyperlordosis. People should see a doctor for lower back that is severe, does not get better, or occurs along with other concerning or debilitating symptoms.

Some of the home remedies listed in this article are available for purchase online.

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