High anterior intervertebral shear loads could cause low back injuries and therefore the neuromuscular system may actively counteract these forces. This study investigated whether, under constant moment loading relative to L3L4, an increased externally applied forward force on the trunk results in a shift in muscle activation towards the use of muscles with more backward directed lines of action, thereby reducing the increase in total joint shear force. Twelve participants isometrically resisted forward forces, applied at several locations on the trunk, while moments were held constant relative to L3L4. Surface EMG and lumbar curvature were measured, and an EMG-driven muscle model was used to calculate compression and shear forces at all lumbar intervertebral joints. Larger externally applied forward forces resulted in a flattening of the lumbar lordosis and a slightly more backward directed muscle force. Furthermore, the overall muscle activation increased. At the T12L1 to L3L4 joint, resulting joint shear forces remained small (less than 200 N) because the average muscle force pulled backward relative to those joints. However, at the L5S1 joint the average muscle force pulled the trunk forward so that the increase in muscle force with increasing externally applied forward force caused a further rise in shear force (by 102.1 N, SD = 104.0 N), resulting in a joint shear force of 1080.1 N (SD = 150.4 N) at 50 Nm moment loading. It is concluded that the response of the neuromuscular system to shear force challenges tends to increase rather than reduce the shear loading at the lumbar joint that is subjected to the highest shear forces. © 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.