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Can Constipation Cause Back Pain?

Rear view of a young man holding his back in pain caused by constipation

Do you have a sore back AND constipation?

Both back pain and constipation are common medical issues faced by many Americans and people from all around the world.

Often, the two conditions occur together. But are constipation and back pain connected, and does one influence the other and vice versa?

In this blog, we examine the link between the two conditions and explain what we can do to alleviate both conditions. 

So, if you have constipation AND back pain, read on for more information on whether the two conditions may be linked for you – or whether you’re dealing with two separate conditions. 

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What Are The Symptoms Of Constipation?

Doctors describe constipation as "having less than three bowel movements in a week." Additional symptoms of constipation include:

  • Straining excessively to evacuate fecal matter from the bowels
  • Having to press the abdomen to promote bowel movements
  • Having a sensation of a blockage that is restricting bowel movement
  • To always feel a bloating sensation
  • When you evacuate the bowels, there is pain
  • Stools that are lumpy and hard like clay
  • Having to use fingers to evict stool from the rectum
  • Despite going to the bathroom, there is a sensation of stool remaining

Constipation And Back Pain: Is There A Link?

what is the link between back pain and constipation

Digital composite of Highlighted spine of woman with back pain

When you suffer from constipation, it can lead to the intestines swelling up due to unpassed fecal matter.

This situation can cause bloating and cause your stomach to look “bigger” than normal. Plus, when your intestines swell like this, it can lead to discomfort and pain in your lower back.

This type of pain is usually a dull aching kind of pain that we classify as "general back pain." 

Does Back Pain Lead To Constipation?

If you have a spinal cord injury or an issue with any of the nerves that cause back pain, these issues can also result in constipation. Why?

Because any injury or damage to the nerves that control sections of the intestines and colon directly impacts whether you have regular bowel movements. 

Chronic back pain - which is intense - also leads to poor sleep, which has a knock-on effect on your day-to-day routine and overall quality of life.

The pain also leads to mental and physical stress – all of which are factors in the development of constipation and a poorly functioning bowel. 

Is Lower Back Pain A Result Of Constipation?

lower back pain

As we mentioned, a buildup of stool in the intestines can cause pain in the lower back in the form of a persistent dull ache.

But the symptoms can mimic lots of other medical conditions. For example, suppose the pain in your lower back is due to constipation.

In that case, it will gradually dissipate once regular bowel movements begin. 

Another less common reason for lower back pain is a more severe form of constipation called fecal impaction.

This condition occurs when “dry” stool lodges in your rectum or colon. This situation leads to a build-up of additional pressure in the bowel and surrounding areas that often cause lower back pain.

Some signs of fecal impaction include bloating, abdominal cramps, and bleeding when passing stools.

So, if you have constipation in the lower back and some other symptoms of fecal impaction, we recommend you consult your physician. 

Does Constipation Also Lead To Upper Back Pain?

While constipation may be one of the many causes of lower back pain, it rarely, if ever, is a cause of pain in the upper back.

One of the rare times that upper back pain does lead to constipation is when the reason is an injury that affects the nerves connected to the colon and digestive system. 

For example, if you suffer from a herniated disc in the upper back, it can cause excess pressure on specific nerves in the spine, including those that regulate bowel movements.

In addition, any injury or sprain to the spinal cord can lead to pain in the upper back that may indirectly cause constipation.  

If you have upper back pain and constipation, we recommend you book in with us for a complete physical evaluation of your upper back and spine to determine the root cause of your symptoms and whether the two conditions are linked for you. 

Can Leg And Back Pain Co-Occur Due To Constipation? 

Can Leg And Back Pain Co-Occur Due To Constipation?

Back pain often radiates down into the legs, but it is unlikely that constipation will lead to leg pain.

You are only likely to experience leg pain with constipation if it is in conjunction with pre-existing pain in the back.

For instance, you may suffer from constipation if you already suffer from sciatica. Why? Because sciatica affects the sciatic nerves that travel from the lower back through the buttocks and hips and into each leg.

The condition occurs when pressure builds up on one or both sciatic nerves and causes pain to radiate downwards through the back of the legs.

Bowel movements are not usually affected, but in severe cases, they can cause problems with bowel and bladder function.

What Are The Leading Causes Of Constipation AND Back Pain?

Well, one of the primary reasons for an increasing number of Americans experiencing constipation is the Standard American Diet (SAD) and the unhealthy lifestyles that go hand in hand.

From not including enough fiber in the diet – in the form of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains – to neglecting to drink the minimum recommended quantity of water to stay hydrated and have healthy bowel movements.

But in most cases, if you have back pain and constipation together, it is more likely to be two different conditions.

For example, patients with severe diabetes can sometimes experience constipation. But they are also more likely to lead a sedentary lifestyle, which increases the likelihood of suffering from back pain and constipation. 

In rare cases, a tumor on the spinal cord could lead to constipation and back pain simultaneously due to the location of the cancer and the pressure on the spinal cord. But this is highly unlikely in most cases. 

Treating Back Pain And Constipation

intestine being examined by cartoon doctor for constipation and back pain treatment

You can try over-the-counter medication to treat constipation. Just remember that laxatives and other similar medications and supplements are temporary fixes.

If you have chronic constipation, they won't solve the problem long-term. A healthy diet, exercise, and physical therapy are much healthier ways to do it.

But those things don’t work for everyone either – especially if it’s a functional problem associated with physical issues.

The most effective treatment for back pain and constipation depends on the cause of both conditions. In cases where you're not drinking enough water or eating enough fiber, which leads to dehydration and constipation.

You can quickly rectify constipation with more water and fiber. But if your lower back pain and constipation result from sciatica, spinal cord injury, or another nerve-related condition, treating the root cause with physical therapy usually resolves constipation and reduces pain and discomfort. 

How does physical therapy benefit constipation?

  • Can treat pelvic floor dysfunction and chronically tight pelvic floor muscles
  • Teaches you to relax pelvic floor muscles
  • It helps to increase peristalsis (the contractions that trigger bowel movements)
  • Reduces chronic stress and tension

How does physical therapy help with back pain?

  • We find the root cause
  • Reduce pain and discomfort
  • Hands-on therapy to breakdown the chronically tight connective tissue that triggers back pain
  • Teach you to relax, stretch and strengthen the back muscles

Important: Does Constipation Lead To Severe Back Pain?

Stomach and back pain caused by constipation

Constipation per se, does not lead to severe back pain. However, it could be one of the many side effects of the pain or the medication used to treat severe back pain.

Regular constipation tends to cause a dull ache, not extreme, sharp pain. If you have constipation accompanied by severe back pain, it could be due to:

  • Any spinal cord trauma
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • A pinched nerve on the back
  • A tumor of the spine
  • Parkinson’s Disease

If you suspect any of these conditions. We recommend you immediately book an appointment for a complete physical evaluation with one of our Physical Therapists.

We can help you find the root cause of your pain, put your mind at ease and rule out more serious causes of back pain and constipation.  

Not sure whether physical therapy is right for you?

Why not try a free 30-minute Discovery Visit at our New Jersey clinic or via a Telephone Consultation? 

It's an opportunity for you to chat with us about your back issues, get some free advice, and find out whether we're the right fit for you. 

There is zero financial investment and no obligation to book treatment afterward. Just complete the form, and we'll be in touch. 

Tom Willemann

Tom Willemann

Tom Willemann is a premier physical therapist based out of Bergen County, New Jersey. He holds an MS in physical therapy from the University of Miami, is credentialed in the world-renowned McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), and holds an OCS (Orthopedic Clinical Specialist) certification. As of 2018, there are approximately 14,000 ABPTS certified specialists in the nation and less than 400 of them are located in the state of New Jersey. Tom is the owner and director of Apex Orthopedic Rehabilitation in Paramus. He opened the clinic, which specializes in spine and sports injury prevention, in 2004 after many years of experience in the field. Tom’s caring interest in others and his strong belief in continuity of care, combined with his clinic’s ability to find solutions for the most difficult orthopedic problems, have earned Apex Orthopedic Rehabilitation its excellent reputation with patients and medical professionals in northeastern New Jersey and beyond. A true “family man,” Tom takes pride in his clinic’s warm and welcoming environment.
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