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Can Constipation Cause Lower Back Pain?

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Lower back pain can be difficult to diagnose because it can have so many potential causes. Since our lower back houses crucial skeletal structures, muscle groups, and nerve endings, any lower back pain should be diagnosed and treated immediately, no matter how trivial or serious the cause.

But can a condition like constipation cause lower back pain? It’s possible, but there are other equally likely causes as well. If constipation is the cause of your back pain, it may indicate a more serious issue with your digestive system that needs treatment.

How Constipation Causes Back Pain

Because of the large space the digestive tract occupies in the body, it’s possible for signs and symptoms of back pain to manifest when you experience constipation. Typically, this lower back pain will appear as a dull, aching pain that extends from your lower back to the rest of your abdomen – typically a sign of a blocked rectum or stool backup in your colon.

There are two constipation-related causes that can cause significant symptoms of lower back pain:

1. Fecal impaction

Fecal impaction is a severe condition where your stool is unable to pass through your colon or rectum, causing extreme pressure on the organs around the area. Without proper medical treatment, fecal impaction can cause severe pain and damage, and should be treated as soon as possible.

Aside from lower back pain, other symptoms of fecal impaction include bloating, vomiting, nausea, headaches, and incontinence. These symptoms can appear gradually and all at once, and will become increasingly severe until the blockage is treated.

The primary cause of fecal impaction is frequent and untreated constipation. Since constipation effectively conditions the colon and the rectum to be more restrictive and apply pressure on itself to tighten up, this can cause a significant buildup of stools over time. When the mass gets significant enough, fecal impaction occurs. 

Other less likely causes are medication, surgery, lack of movement, or the overuse of laxatives.

Typically, the treatment for fecal impaction is an enema, laxatives, water irrigation, or anal suppositories. Under no circumstances should patients try to treat themselves at home or ignore the symptoms, especially if your lower back pain has migrated to your lower limb.

2. General constipation

The more likely cause for lower back pain is constipation itself, since the blockage of fecal matter in your digestive tract presses on the muscles and nerves of your body. This causes feedback of sensations that steadily get worse as the mass grows.

Symptoms of constipation include infrequent bowel movements, acute or chronic back pain in the lower back and lower limb when defecating, difficulty with bowel movements, and hard or lumpy stools. You may also experience abdominal cramping and swelling, and a feeling of fullness that remains even if you haven’t eaten anything.

Causes of constipation are usually linked to diet, though factors like stress, injury, medication, and lack of exercise can also play a role. Most of the time, the exact cause of constipation can be difficult to determine without a physician’s diagnosis. This makes it crucial for patients to consult with doctors if they experience constipation right away, especially if it’s been ongoing for a while.

Treatment for constipation is typically less aggressive than fecal impaction, revolving around diet and management of bowel movement. Medications may be used, but doctors will usually recommend them as a last resort. Lifestyle changes like exercise and stretching are also excellent treatment options, but should not be used as the only solution to treating the problem.

When To See Your Doctor

In most cases, it’s possible to apply home remedies and management to back pain caused by constipation. The pain usually subsides once the blockage has been removed, though patients need to monitor themselves if they’re prone to bouts of constipation.

However, there are situations where it’s more advisable that you consult your doctor immediately about your lower back pain:

1. When you haven’t had a bowel movement in more than 7 days

This may indicate a serious blockage in your digestive tract that needs treatment immediately. Symptoms for constipation may sometimes appear isolated from one another, based on the body of the patient. Patients who experience prolonged periods without a bowel movement and lower back pain should get checked immediately.

2. Bloody stools

Bloody stool is a sign of either anal fissure or internal bleeding. Because the stools are so compacted and dry, they scratch and tear the lining of the digestive tract during a bowel movement. More severe causes for bloody stools may include cancer or hemorrhoids.

3. Pain that doesn’t disappear after bowel movement

Your lower back pain should disappear after a bowel movement, since that alleviates any pressure you may be experiencing in your pelvic area. However, if the pain persists or intensifies after your bowel movement, it could be a sign that a nerve was pinched or something was dislodged when your colon loosened up.

4. Fluctuating back pain

Lower back pain isn’t always intense and localized – chronic pain can also manifest if your habits or lifestyle contribute to conditions like constipation. Most patients tend to dismiss acute back pain unless it becomes too debilitating, but even periods of fluctuating lower back pain should be checked by a physician immediately.

5. Difficulty in bowel movement

Aside from the frequency of bowel movements, the difficulty of stool evacuation should also be considered. If you’re having trouble with your bowel movements, it could be that the stool inside your digestive system has become too large to push out. Forcing a bowel movement in that situation can cause serious damage to your rectal lining.

Under no circumstances should you consider self-medication unless approved by a doctor. While laxatives and other medications can help alleviate mild symptoms of constipation and lower back pain, any serious or chronic back problems should always be diagnosed by a medical professional first.

Other Conditions That May Cause Back Pain

While constipation can be a trigger of lower back pain, there are other conditions that are equally likely to be the cause. These conditions are often far more serious and have debilitating effects if not treated immediately.

1. Masses around the lower back

Cancer (particularly colon and rectal cancer) can often manifest in lower back or lower limb pain, alongside bloody stools and difficulty with bowel movements. Since the tumor mass can press on the spinal cord and other nerves found in the lower back, it can often escalate into a life-threatening situation if left unattended.

Swelling, inflammation, lumps, or acute pain and discomfort are also symptoms of tumors. It’s often possible to feel the tumor itself if it’s around the lower back area. These lumps aren’t always tumors: they can also be swollen lymph nodes, one of the latest signs of colorectal cancer.

2. Spinal injuries

Spinal injuries, like a slipped disc or pelvic injury, or any activity that pinches the sciatic nerve around your spinal cord can also cause significant amounts of lower back pain. These injuries can be fairly minor or severe in nature and are usually determined by the event that precipitated the accident.

In rare cases, it can be possible for spinal injuries to remain undetected, only causing intermittent lower back pain that can be mistakenly attributed to constipation. In these situations, the patient’s self-awareness about their body and the schedule of their regular checkups is crucial to catch any spinal injuries and prevent them from becoming a bigger problem.

3. Improper sleep positions

Finally, improper sleep position can be a significant contributor to lower back pain. Since the body follows a natural curvature, any misalignment that it experiences during sleep will manifest in acute pain when the person wakes up. This pain can be magnified during and after bowel movements, which can muddle the diagnosis and treatments the physician may recommend.

Improper sleep positions can be treated by buying the right pillow, adjusting your mattress, or getting a medical brace. You can also consider exercises and stretches to do before bedtime that can help your muscles and bones remain more limber, as well as a similar routine to follow in the morning.

No matter the sign or symptom of back pain, it’s crucial that the patient have themselves examined immediately. Any significant loss of function or changes in the body after experiencing lower back pain can be a sign of a serious condition that needs to be treated immediately.

Improve Spinal Health With The Spine And Rehab Group

Constipation is a possible cause for lower back pain, but you should always get a full diagnosis before your doctor before settling it as the only cause. There are a myriad of factors that can trigger the symptoms of lower back pain, and it’s important to check for all possible conditions to catch any serious illnesses that may be developing.

At the Spine And Rehab Group, we believe in providing high-quality medical care and assistance for any sort of back pain, combined with a commitment to long-lasting solutions and excellent customer service. We have years of experience in treating most causes of back pain, with clinics all over New York that you can visit today.

Read more: How To Describe Back Pain To Your Doctor

Page Updated on Jun 20, 2022 by Dr. Hosny (Interventional Spine Specialist) of The Spine & Rehab Group
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