Are lower back pain and constipation related?
Both symptoms are very common, and they rarely indicate a medical emergency if they appear on their own unless they are severe or occur over a long period. If they suddenly occur together, however, a person may need to see their doctor.
In this article, we cover conditions that cause both symptoms, as well as potential individual causes.
Conditions that can cause both symptoms
Bowel obstruction, endometriosis, and fibromyalgia can all cause constipation and lower back pain.
- Bowel obstruction: A bowel obstruction may occur due to a collection of hard stool in the intestine or because of something that presses on or constricts the bowel and keeps 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. These places often include the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowel, and bladder.
- Fibromyalgia: People with fibromyalgia typically experience increased sensitivity to pain, pain all over the body, problems sleeping, fatigue, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): IBD includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. These conditions can cause intestinal inflammation that leads to diarrhea and constipation.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): IBS symptoms often include either constipation, diarrhea, or both, as well as abdominal bloating and cramping.
- Liver disorders: Liver disorders, such as cancer, cirrhosis, and hepatitis, can cause symptoms that include nausea, constipation, abdominal pain and swelling, and itching. Although rare, liver swelling can also press on nerves in the lower back, leading to back pain.
- 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.
- Peritonitis: Peritonitis occurs when inflammation, infection, or both develop in the lining of the abdominal cavity. It can cause symptoms such as constipation, feelings of abdominal fullness, fatigue, and body pain.
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs): A UTI is an infection of part of the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and ureters. In addition to digestive problems, UTIs — specifically kidney infections or stones — can cause back and flank pain.
Women may experience both of these symptoms at the same time during pregnancy when increased hormone levels can lead to constipation, and the growing uterus can place extra pressure on the lower back.
Aging can also cause an increased incidence of lower back pain and constipation. As a person ages, the disks in their back may start to shrink, which reduces their shock absorbing abilities, thus contributing to back pain.
Aging can also lead to changes in a person's activity levels and the speed of their intestinal movement. These changes can contribute to constipation.
Common causes of constipation
Certain medications may cause constipation as a side effect.
Constipation causes can vary. Some examples include:
- bowel obstruction
- dietary changes, such as eating less fiber
- hypothyroidism, or a low-functioning thyroid
- IBD, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
- lack of physical activity
- pelvic floor disorders
- taking medications that have constipation as a side effect
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.
Common causes of lower back pain
About 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Lower back pain is usually an acute condition that may occur due to overuse or an injury or sprain. However, some people may experience chronic back pain that lasts for 12 weeks or longer.
Some of the most common 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.
- Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis causes decreased bone density, which puts a person at higher risk for spinal fractures.
- 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. A common cause is lifting excessively heavy items.
- Spinal tumors: Spinal tumors are a rare cause of lower back pain, but they can press on spinal nerves, resulting in pain and discomfort.
- Radiculopathy: Lower back radiculopathy occurs when a nerve becomes compressed, irritated, or inflamed. The most common radiculopathy symptoms are pain, tingling, and numbness down one or both sides of the body.
Sciatica, which is the compression of the sciatic nerve that travels down the buttocks to the leg, is one form of radiculopathy.
When to see a doctor
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend that a person sees a doctor right away if they have lower back pain and constipation together.
Anyone who experiences frequent bouts of constipation or unexplained instances of lower back pain should also talk to a doctor.
General home treatments
Drinking plenty of water can make stools softer and easier to pass.
If lower back pain and constipation occur at the same time due to a single underlying condition, a doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment for it.
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 available for purchase over the counter or online include ibuprofen and naproxen. A person can take them with food as necessary. If they find that they need them daily for more than a few days, they should seek medical advice.
- Engage in low-impact physical activity. This type of exercise helps stretch tense muscles and encourage intestinal movement. Walking is an example of a gentle physical activity that can be beneficial.
- Drink plenty of water. Water can add bulk to the stool to make it softer and easier to pass.
- Try over-the-counter stool softeners. These make the stool easier to pass. Stool softeners are available to purchase online.
- 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 heat treatment or cold therapy for 10-minute periods can help soothe inflamed muscles. Products for heat or cold therapy are available for purchase online, including heat pads and cool packs.
If symptoms remain despite home treatments, a person should see their doctor.
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 see their doctor.
How likely is it that sudden lower back pain and constipation are due to a form of cancer?
It is unlikely for lower back pain and constipation to occur suddenly when they relate to cancer. Both symptoms usually appear in the later stages of cancers that cause back pain and constipation. Also, these symptoms tend to occur gradually, not suddenly, when they are due to cancer.Cynthia Chavoustie, PA Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
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