Although back pain and bloating are fairly common symptoms, it is a good idea to see a doctor if they last more than a few days.
Although the most common causes of back pain and bloating are relatively harmless, some of the less common reasons can be life-threatening.
Common causes of back pain and bloating
Back pain and bloating may occur together but may not always be related.
It is worth mentioning that these common causes are by far the most likely reasons that a person will develop back pain and bloating. Causes include:
- hormonal shifts
- back injuries
- gas and gastrointestinal problems
- urinary tract infection (UTI)
A doctor will check for these conditions before looking for anything more serious.
Hormones are the body's chemical messengers. As hormone levels swing, they can affect the way the body behaves. Both sexes are vulnerable to hormone shifts.
Many women experience back pain or cramping with bloating during or immediately before their period. If the symptoms follow a predictable pattern and do not cause severe problems, they are generally nothing to worry about.
People undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may also experience bloating and pain. They should discuss these symptoms with a doctor.
Sometimes, pregnancy causes bloating, constipation, and gas. This is particularly true late in pregnancy when the uterus begins compressing the organs.
The additional weight at the front of the body can also put a strain on the back and hips. Anyone who is pregnant should tell their doctor or midwife about any symptoms they experience, since any conditions or problems that the pregnant woman experiences can affect the baby.
Most causes of bloating and back pain in pregnancy are harmless and typically clear up after delivery.
A wide range of back injuries, ranging from minor muscle sprains and strains to more serious injuries such as herniated discs, can cause back pain.
Sometimes the pain from a herniated disc radiates to other areas of the body, including the abdomen, and can create unusual sensations, such as bloating.
Gas and gastrointestinal (GI) problems
Most of the time, gas is no more than a minor annoyance.
However, gas occasionally produces intense pain that makes the entire abdomen feel full and tender. This pain can radiate to the back, causing back pain and bloating. Minor gastrointestinal problems, such as stomach viruses, may also cause intense gas pain.
Sometimes, GI issues can cause muscle pain. This can happen after straining to have a bowel movement or repeatedly vomiting.
Stress changes the body, not just the mind. Intense stress or anxiety can trigger both back pain and stomach discomfort, including bloating.
Back pain often occurs because some people who are experiencing stress tense their muscles unconsciously. Stomach pain and bloating are more common in people who have stress as well as an underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A UTI can cause back pain when it spreads to the kidneys. UTIs also trigger a frequent need to use the bathroom. Some people find that they feel like they need to use the bathroom again immediately after using it.
This sensation may feel like abdominal bloating, pain, or pressure. Severe kidney infections can also cause vomiting that leads to bloating.
Less common causes of back pain and bloating
The following issues may also cause back pain and bloating, but are much less common:
- spinal injuries and disorders
- pancreatic cancer
- liver disorders
- abdominal aortic aneurysms
- serious gastrointestinal disorders, such as peritonitis and bowel obstruction
Although rare, these causes and conditions require prompt treatment. Anyone experiencing severe pain or who thinks they are at risk for a rare cause should see a doctor immediately.
When to see a doctor
A person should consult a doctor if their pain is severe or lasts several days.
Abdominal bloating and back pain are often just minor annoyances that go away on their own. In many cases, the two symptoms are unrelated.
For example, people with chronic pain in their lower back may periodically experience gas that makes their abdomen hurt and their back pain worse.
See a doctor if the pain does not go away on its own after a few days.
Someone should go to the emergency room if:
- the pain is unbearable and comes on suddenly
- the pain is accompanied by bleeding from the rectum
- they have a severe medical condition, such as liver failure
- they have recently suffered a serious injury, such as a spinal cord injury
See a doctor within a day if:
- there is a fever along with the pain
- the pain is getting worse
- the pain is different from previous episodes of back or stomach pain
Treatment depends on the cause but may involve the following:
Treating infections and other causes
Bacterial infections, such as UTIs and kidney infections, require antibiotics. Appendicitis and some other causes of swelling in the abdominal cavity may need surgery. If an ectopic pregnancy is the cause of the symptoms, the pregnancy must be removed.
Treating an underlying condition
What if the cause is unknown?
Before a doctor can treat the pain, they must determine the cause. To do this, the doctor may take a complete medical history, press on the abdomen or back to identify pain levels and position, perform blood work, or do imaging scans of the back or stomach.
Drinking plenty of water may help to treat bloating.
There are some home remedies that a person can try to ease back pain and bloating. However, if symptoms are due to a serious condition, such as liver failure, it is essential to talk to a doctor before trying any home remedies. Some treatments may be unsafe for people in organ failure or with other conditions.
If the problem is a minor one, such as gas or a stomach virus, it is usually safe to manage symptoms at home.
Strategies that might help include:
- taking anti-gas medication
- applying a heating pad to the back or stomach
- drinking plenty of water
- deep breathing
- over-the-counter pain relievers
Most cases of bloating and back pain disappear on their own. Some, such as those due to kidney infections or appendicitis, require treatment but can easily be cured with medical care. Managing symptoms will require an ongoing approach in some cases.
Cancer, liver failure, and other serious disorders are more difficult to treat. Early intervention and prompt medical care improve the outlook in all cases.
Abdominal bloating and back pain are widespread complaints, with many possible causes. Unless the pain is intense or accompanied by other worrisome symptoms, it is usually safe to see if symptoms disappear on their own.
However, do not self-diagnose. Only a medical provider can determine the cause of the pain. With prompt treatment, even serious and life-threatening conditions can improve.