The Connection Between Your Digestive Health and Back Pain

Written by Bob O'Grady on . Posted in Blog

Your body consists of numerous complex physiological systems that all have to work together to keep you healthy and mobile. In many cases, conditions that affect one bodily system can also have repercussions on the rest of the body.

In a previous blog, “The Connection Between Your Emotions and Your Pain,” we discussed the ways that mental health can affect chronic and acute pain symptoms. However, many of the system connections in your body are more concrete than the link between stress and higher pain levels.

In this blog, we examine the surprising connection between your digestive system and your back. These areas of the body represent some of the most common locations of pain symptoms for patients, but digestive system and back symptoms are rarely considered side-by-side.

Bowel Problems and Lower Back Pain

Perhaps the most common digestion-spinal health connection is the link between constipation and lower back pain. These conditions can occur simultaneously for one of the following reasons:

  • The patient becomes constipated and the strain caused by the digestive block contributes to the development of tenseness and inflammation in the lower back. This back pain can feel more intense if the patient has a pinched nerve or other existing back condition that may be exacerbated by the constipation.
  • The patient sustains a lower back injury that causes muscle spasms. These muscle spasms inhibit the movement of food and waste through the digestive system, resulting in constipation.
  • The patient takes prescription medication to treat a pre-existing lower back condition. This medication, likely an opioid, causes constipation as a side effect. This correlation can also occur with some antidepressants, antacids, and blood pressure medications.

If you experience a combination of constipation and lower back pain, keep yourself hydrated and increase your fiber intake to encourage regularity. Then, schedule a spinal adjustment or appointment with your pain management provider to determine how best to address your back pain.

Diet and Nerve Sensitivity

Many back conditions have less to do with the vertebrae themselves and more to do with the nerve connections around the vertebrae. Certain foods can contribute to nerve inflammation, making back pain more likely and more intense when it occurs.

You may experience less nerve pain when you limit the following:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Simple sugars

While proper nutrition cannot eliminate all pain, especially among patients with chronic pain, a healthy diet can help your body reduce normal pain responses. Your doctor may recommend a vitamin or mineral supplement to help you improve your overall nutrition.

Digestive Organs and Shoulder Misalignment

If you experience frequent pain between your shoulder blades, especially if your pain keeps coming back in spite of treatment, the underlying cause may actually be a problem with a digestive organ.

The nerves in your mid-back, where the shoulders are located, connect to a number of sensitive organs. When one of these organs develops an issue, your brain may read the pain signals as coming from your back instead.

Shoulder pain may be linked to the following organs:

  • Esophagus
  • Gallbladder
  • Liver
  • Small intestine
  • Stomach

If back treatment alone does not improve your mid-back pain, talk to a digestive health expert. He or she may order tests to determine if your back pain is actually originating in a specific organ.

Indigestion and Lower Back Pain

Just as the nerves in your mid-back are closely connected to the organs listed above, the nerves in your lower back are linked to your kidneys, small intestine, and colon. When food reaches these organs only partially digested, it can cause strain and discomfort, which can in turn contribute to pain in the lower back.

Indigestion is a complex condition that can occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Gallstones
  • Gastritis
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Pancreatitis
  • Poor eating habits
  • Pregnancy

If you experience indigestion and back pain simultaneously, seek medical help to diagnose the cause of the indigestion first. Resolving the indigestion may also alleviate your lower back pain.

If you notice a correlation between your diet or regularity and your spinal health, bring up the possibility of a connection the next time you visit your pain management provider, primary care physician, or other health care provider.

Remember, not all back pain is directly related to digestive health problems or vice versa, but identifying an existing connection can lead to more effective pain management and injury prevention.

At Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates, we help patients address many kinds of symptoms, including gastric distress and chronic back pain. If you suffer from both digestive health problems and back pain, our team can determine whether or not your issues with these two systems are linked.

Visit our center for digestive health page to learn more about our gastroenterology capabilities, or visit our specialized services page to learn more about back conditions we treat.