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Lower back pain and constipation can be symptoms of a single condition or unrelated symptoms that happen to occur at the same time. If both symptoms occur together, a person should contact a healthcare professional.

Lower back pain is widespread and usually resolves without treatment.

Constipation is also common, and people can usually treat it at home. However, if constipation and lower back pain occur together, a person should contact a doctor.

This article examines whether lower back pain can cause constipation. It also looks at conditions that cause both symptoms, potential individual causes, and treatment options.

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Sometimes, the cause of lower back pain can lead to constipation. This can happen due to a tumor or growth.

According to the British charity Cancer Research UK, if a tumor presses on the nerves in the spinal cord, it can stop or slow down the movement of the bowel, leading to constipation.

The American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons states that growths and tumors in the colon can also cause constipation.

However, it is important to note that these are less likely to cause constipation, and anyone who has concerns should contact a doctor.

Constipation can lead to lower back pain. The pain occurs when the mass of feces presses on the nerves in the lower back, called the sacral nerves.

The following are examples of conditions that can cause both constipation and lower back pain at the same time:

  • Bowel obstruction: A bowel obstruction may occur due to a collection of hard stool in the intestine or because something presses on or constricts the bowel and prevents the stool from moving forward.
  • Endometriosis: In people with endometriosis, the tissue that normally lines the uterus starts to grow in other places in the body, including the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowel, and bladder. A 2020 article notes that the most common symptoms include back pain, lower abdominal pain, and severe menstrual cramps.
  • Fibromyalgia: People with fibromyalgia typically experience increased sensitivity to pain, pain all over the body, problems sleeping, fatigue, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Lower back pain is a common symptom.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These conditions can cause intestinal inflammation that leads to diarrhea and constipation. In addition, a 2019 article notes that IBD has an association with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS symptoms often include constipation, diarrhea, or both, as well as abdominal bloating and cramping. Lower back pain can be a symptom of IBS.
  • Liver disorders: Liver disorders, such as cancer, cirrhosis, and hepatitis, can cause symptoms that include nausea, constipation, abdominal pain and swelling, and itching. The location of the back pain depends on the liver disorder. For example, researchers of a 2015 study found that lower back pain was a common symptom of cirrhosis. Back pain with liver inflammation typically occurs in the upper back on the right.
  • Pancreatic cancer: Pancreatic cancer does not usually cause symptoms in its earlier stages. However, as it progresses, a person may experience a range of symptoms, such as itching skin, back pain, abdominal pain, and digestive problems. Treatment for pancreatic cancer can cause constipation, leading to lower back pain when severe.
  • Other cancers: Cancers that have metastasized to the bone, such as breast cancer, can lead to back pain.

Learn about the differences between IBD and IBS here.

People should contact a doctor as soon as possible if they have constipation and experience lower back pain.

Other causes

Pregnancy can also cause lower back pain and constipation together. Lower back pain can occur due to the growing fetus adding additional pressure on the back, and increasing progesterone levels can lead to constipation.

Learn more about constipation and pregnancy here.

Aging can also lead to increased incidences of lower back pain and constipation. This can result from dietary choices, medications, and a lack of exercise, amongst other causes.

In addition, as a person ages, the disks in their back lose flexibility and fluid, which reduces their shock-absorbing abilities, thus contributing to back pain.

Learn about some of the foods that can cause constipation here.

Q:

How likely is it that sudden lower back pain and constipation are due to a form of cancer?

Anonymous

A:

Back pain is a very common ailment and is most likely related to a musculoskeletal issue. Cancers rarely start in the back, but they can spread from somewhere else to the back. This pain, however, is usually a gradually worsening pain. This is the same for constipation related to cancer. Typically constipation related to cancer is a gradual onset. Also, there will often be more signs once there is both back pain and constipation, such as weight loss, night sweats, and fatigue.

Angela M. Bell, MD, FACPAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

Constipation causes can vary.

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) notes that some causes of constipation include:

  • a diet low in fiber
  • dehydration
  • a lack of physical activity
  • pelvic floor disorders
  • irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease
  • obstructions in the bowel
  • medications that have constipation as a side effect
  • hypothyroidism, or a low-functioning thyroid

A person with a history of spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, or surgery on the colon may also be more prone to constipation than other people.

Learn more about constipation and its causes here.

Lower back pain can be acute, which is when the pain lasts a few weeks and resolves without treatment or chronic. Chronic lower back pain usually lasts for 12 weeks or longer.

Some causes of lower back pain include:

  • Herniated disk: A herniated or bulging disk occurs when one of the disks that provide cushioning between the bones in the spine starts to bulge outward. This disk then presses on the spinal nerves, which can cause lower back pain and discomfort.
  • Scoliosis and other skeletal problems: Scoliosis and lordosis, a spinal curve specific to the lower back, can cause lower back pain.
  • Spinal stenosis: Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal bones start to narrow, usually due to injury or aging. The narrowing places extra pressure on the spinal nerves, which can cause pain and affect sensation.
  • Sprains: A sprain occurs when a person overstretches ligaments in their back, resulting in injury.
  • Strains: A strain occurs when a person tears a tendon or muscle in their back.
  • Spinal tumors: Spinal tumors can press on spinal nerves, resulting in pain and discomfort.
  • Radiculopathy: Lower back radiculopathy occurs when a nerve becomes compressed, irritated, or inflamed. Symptoms include pain, tingling, and numbness down one or both sides of the body.
  • Sciatica: Sciatica occurs due to compression of the sciatic nerve that travels down the buttocks to the leg. This is a form of radiculopathy.

Learn more about the causes of lower back pain here.

The NIDDK recommends that a person sees a doctor right away if they have lower back pain and constipation together or experiences frequent bouts of constipation or unexplained instances of lower back pain.

If lower back pain and constipation occur together due to a single underlying condition, a doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment.

In less serious cases, there are several things that a person can do at home to relieve constipation and lower back pain when they occur together:

  • Try nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These drugs can help relieve pain. Examples of NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • Engage in low-impact physical activity: According to 2019 research, exercise is an effective treatment option for constipation. Gentle exercises can also help treat lower back pain.
  • Drink plenty of water: Water can add bulk to the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.
  • Try over-the-counter stool softeners and laxatives: These make the stool easier to pass.
  • Eat more fiber: Although the body does not digest fiber, this nutrient can add bulk to stool. The increased bulk stimulates the intestines, making the stool move along the digestive tract more easily.
  • Apply cloth-covered heat or ice packs to the lower back: Applying hot or cold packs can help soothe inflamed muscles and ease pain.

If symptoms remain despite home treatments, a person should contact a doctor.

Learn the difference between laxatives and stool softeners here.

A healthcare professional may recommend the following to treat the causes of lower back pain and constipation.

CauseTreatment options
Bowel obstructionHealthcare professionals recommend supportive treatment, including:
• medication
• observation
• nasogastric tube
• surgery
EndometriosisTreatment involves medication, such as hormonal birth control and pain medications. In severe cases, surgery may be an option.
FibromyalgiaTreatment includes:
• medications, such as pain relievers
• aerobic exercise
• muscle strengthening exercises
• stress management, including yoga and massage
• good sleep hygiene
• cognitive behavioral therapy
Inflammatory bowel diseaseTreatment involves medications, such as immunosuppressants, and surgery.
Irritable bowel diseaseTreatment involves:
• corticosteroids
• aminosalicylates
• immunodulators
• biologic medications
Liver disordersTreatment will depend on the condition affecting the liver. For example, treatment for liver cancer includes:
• surgery
• ablation
• embolization
• radiation therapy
• targeted drug therapy
• immunotherapy
• chemotherapy

Treatment for hepatitis depends on the type a person has contracted. Acute hepatitis may resolve without treatment. Surgery and other medical procedures can help to treat chronic hepatitis.
Pancreatic cancerSimilarly to liver cancer, treatment may involve:
• surgery
• ablation
• embolization
• radiation therapy
• chemotherapy
• targeted therapy
• immunotherapy

Lower back pain and constipation are two conditions that may occur together due to a single condition or as a result of unrelated causes.

If the symptoms are severe or persist beyond a few weeks, a person should contact a doctor.