Cold and flu are common upper respiratory tract infections with several symptoms. Little evidence supports lower back pain as a specific common symptom. However, both flu and cold can cause muscle aches, which can extend to the lower back.

Cold and flu are common, highly contagious viral diseases that affect most people at some point during any given year. Both develop in different ways that affect more of the body than the upper respiratory tract, through which they enter a person’s system.

This article explains the possible relationship between cold, flu, and lower back pain.

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Flu can cause aches and pains throughout the body, which may be noticeable in the lower back.

Flu can also cause a dry cough. Persistent coughing can cause pain in the upper and lower back.

Adults in the United States get 2–4 colds every year, according to the American Lung Association. Symptoms tend to develop within 1–3 days and usually last around 7 days.

The National Health Service (NHS) suggests that muscle aches can be a symptom of respiratory tract infections such as colds.

Learn more about cold and flu.

As symptoms of cold and flu generally pass within 1 week, recovery often involves managing symptoms as they arise. People can manage back pain due to cold and flu in the same way as they would manage lower back pain from non-viral causes. Back pain may take longer to get better without treatment.

Certain measures can help an individual recover faster. These may include:

  • staying as active as possible
  • reducing aches and pain by taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil), or other over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medications including acetaminophen
  • applying a cold compress, such as an ice pack or pack of frozen peas wrapped in a towel
  • applying a warm compress, such as a hot water bottle
  • doing exercises and stretches for back pain

These may or may not feel comfortable with cold and flu. For example, a cold compress might make weak, shivery, or sensitive skin feel even less comfortable. Staying active while experiencing general weakness might also be difficult.

Individuals may need to try various methods to find what reduces back pain without increasing other types of discomfort.

Cold and flu are more likely to cause symptoms other than back pain. People with sudden muscle aches and back pain may benefit from checking for other signs of cold and flu.


Cold may lead to these physical effects:

  • coughing
  • fever
  • headache
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • sneezing


Flu can also cause:

  • cough
  • extreme tiredness
  • fever (in some people)
  • headaches
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • vomiting and diarrhea, although this is more likely in children than in adults

Rest, sleep, and warmth can help an individual feel better throughout periods of flu and cold symptoms. Taking acetaminophen and ibuprofen for muscle aches or back pain during this time might also help reduce body temperature.

Other OTC medications can also help treat congestion, coughing, and nasal discharge.

It is important to drink plenty of water and prevent dehydration. For similar reasons, it is best to avoid coffee, tea, alcohol (if applicable), and soft drinks, as these may contribute to dehydration. People who smoke might consider avoiding it until they recover, as smoking can make coughing worse.

Cold and flu get better without treatment in most people. However, certain groups of people may have a higher risk of flu complications than others and may require in-hospital treatment, including:

  • adults over 65 years old
  • children under 5 years of age
  • pregnant people
  • those with chronic health conditions, including:

Muscle pain due to cold or flu is usually not serious. Muscle aches and other flu or cold symptoms should resolve within a week while resting at home.

However, if coughing or sneezing worsens back pain or if flu or cold symptoms last for longer, it is helpful to speak with a healthcare professional. They can rule out more serious back problems due to other causes.

Other reasons to contact a healthcare professional about cold or flu symptoms include:

  • having an infant or child with cold or flu symptoms
  • being over 65 years of age
  • developing cold or flu symptoms during pregnancy
  • having an underlying health condition, such as:
    • diabetes
    • heart disease
    • lung problems
    • kidney issues
    • brain and nerve disorders
  • living with reduced immune activity
  • symptoms that have continued for more than 7 days

People often ask the following about respiratory tract infections and back pain.

Is lower back pain a symptom of COVID-19?

Lower back pain may be a COVID-19 symptom for some people. Research from 2022 found that infection with SARS-CoV-2 had significant links with lower back pain in around 20% of participants. However, back pain has many possible causes and may not suggest a COVID-19 infection. Only testing can confirm this.

Is back pain a symptom of pneumonia?

Similarly to cold and flu, viral pneumonia can lead to muscle pain. This may feel like lower back pain for some people. However, bacterial pneumonia does not cause muscle pain, according to the American Lung Association.

Some people feel lower back pain due to the muscle aches and coughing that cold and flu can cause. However, most health authorities do not list lower back pain as a common cold and flu symptom.

People who do feel lower back pain with cold and flu can take ibuprofen to reduce muscle aches. OTC medications for coughing can help prevent back pain. If back pain gets worse with coughing or symptoms persist for more than 7 days, a person may need to seek medical attention.