Back pain and nausea can often occur together. Sometimes, the pain of a stomach issue can radiate to the back. Vomiting can also cause pain and tension in the back.
Pain that radiates from the stomach to the back may signal a problem with an organ such as the liver or kidneys.
In this article, we discuss the causes and other symptoms of back pain and nausea, when to see a doctor, and some treatment options. We also look at how pregnancy can increase the risk of nausea and back pain.
Some common causes of back pain and nausea include:
Stomach virus or food poisoning
Gastroenteritis causes pain and inflammation in the stomach as the result of an infection.
Several different types of infection can cause gastroenteritis, including norovirus and food-borne illnesses such as salmonella.
A person with gastroenteritis may experience intense stomach cramping that radiates to the back. Sometimes, the condition may cause them to vomit so hard and so frequently that the muscles of the stomach and back become sore.
Some home remedies to try include limiting the diet to bland, easily digestible foods such as whole wheat toast to ease the vomiting, and drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
Gastroenteritis usually clears up on its own, but a person should seek medical care if they:
- cannot keep any food down
- develop any symptoms of dehydration, such as sunken eyes
- continue vomiting longer than 24 hours
Liver health problems
Liver disease can also cause nausea and back pain. In most cases, the pain begins in the upper right part of the stomach then radiates to the back.
Liver conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer may cause pain that gets steadily worse over many months.
Gallbladder disease, by contrast, can cause pain that slowly gets worse or pain that comes on suddenly. The gallbladder sits under the liver, in the upper right section of the abdomen. A person experiencing a gallbladder attack may report sharp, intense pain in the upper abdomen, especially after eating.
It is not safe to treat liver health issues at home. A person experiencing these symptoms should either see a doctor or go to the emergency room.
Pancreatitis is a condition wherein the pancreas becomes inflamed. It can be either chronic or acute.
Acute pancreatitis may cause sudden nausea, as well as pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to the back.
Other symptoms include:
- a swollen or tender stomach
- a racing heart
- chalky or light colored bowel movements
Pancreatitis is a serious and potentially life threatening illness. A person with symptoms of pancreatitis should not attempt to treat them at home. They need to seek emergency medical care.
Kidney stones or kidney infection
The kidneys rest on either side of the mid-back. Experiencing pain in this area, especially if it is just on one side, may signal either a kidney stone or a kidney infection. The person may also experience nausea, and they may have pain that radiates to the groin.
Many kidney stones pass on their own, but it is important to seek medical care to assess them. A doctor can also offer pain medication.
Kidney infections are very serious and can spread to other areas of the body. A person with a kidney infection may also:
- develop a fever
- have chills
- struggle to urinate or experience pain when urinating
In most cases, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
An ulcer is a break in the membrane of the gastrointestinal system. It may appear in the stomach, intestines, or other digestive organs. These wounds can bleed and cause intense pain, especially after eating a meal.
Some people with ulcers experience nausea and pain after eating. Most ulcers do not cause pain to radiate to the back, but deeper ulcers and those near the back may cause back pain.
To ease the pain of an ulcer, people can try:
- taking antacids
- making dietary changes
- changing position after eating
It is important to see a doctor for ulcer-related pain. They may recommend prescription medication. They will also be able to rule out other causes such as pancreatitis.
Diverticular disease causes small sacs to develop in the lining of the colon. It is very common, especially as people age.
Some people may develop a type of inflammation called diverticulitis. This occurs when the sacs become inflamed. The pouches may even develop painful infections.
Diverticular disease does not always produce symptoms. However, if they do occur, symptoms might include:
- stomach pain
- pain that radiates to the back or groin
- swelling in the stomach
If a person does not seek treatment, diverticulitis can cause bleeding, and it may even puncture the wall of the colon. For this reason, anyone experiencing back pain, stomach problems, or nausea should see a doctor.
It can be difficult to tell one cause of nausea and back pain from another. It is best to err on the side of caution if symptoms are severe.
A person should consult a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:
- nausea that lasts for several days or gets progressively worse
- pain in the upper right portion of the stomach
- intense stomach pain or itching during pregnancy
- stomach pain that gets worse after meals or follows a specific pattern over days or weeks
A person should go to the emergency room if they experience:
- symptoms of pancreatitis, such as pale stool or stomach pain and a fever
- intense stomach pain that feels unbearable
- symptoms of a kidney stone, such as intense back pain that radiates to the groin
The right treatment depends on the cause of the pain. Some home treatment options include:
- eating more fiber
- changing the diet
- drinking more water
- eating smaller or more frequent meals
- avoiding certain foods, such as very fatty or acidic foods
A doctor may recommend a range of treatments, including:
- taking medication for ulcers
- undergoing surgery to resolve diverticulitis
- going to the hospital, so that doctors can monitor the symptoms of pancreatitis
- receiving intravenous fluids
- undergoing surgery to remove gallstones
Pregnancy increases the risk of both nausea and back pain.
As the pregnancy progresses, the uterus and baby put more strain on the body. Women may develop back pain from this added strain, or from the weight gain that occurs during pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, some women experience nausea due to pressure on the organs from the uterus.
Nausea and back pain during pregnancy can be annoying and exhausting but do not usually signal a serious problem. However, in the second or third trimester, some women develop a liver condition called cholestasis.
Some symptoms of cholestasis include:
- nausea or loss of appetite
- pain in the upper right portion of the stomach
- dark colored urine
- yellow eyes or skin
- stomach pain that radiates to the back
The most common and noticeable symptom of cholestasis is itching. Women who have very itchy skin along with a backache or nausea should call their healthcare provider.
When back pain and nausea occur at the same time, it can be unpleasant or even debilitating.
Sometimes, these symptoms will go away on their own. If they do not, it is important to see a doctor, as they can occur in both severe and minor conditions.
It is especially important not to ignore nausea that lasts for several days, especially if there are other symptoms.