Irritable bowel syndrome isn’t a life-threatening condition, but the symptoms that come with it can leave patients tired and uncomfortable. Aside from bloating, abdominal pain, and gas, patients may also experience symptoms outside of their intestines – like upper back pain.
So how is upper back pain related to IBS? Back pain is quite common among IBS patients because gastrointestinal symptoms may result in pain that radiates to the upper back. IBS may also be associated with other health or inflammatory conditions that lead to back pain. For patients who experience IBS-induced upper back pain, the best way to manage their symptoms is through activity modifications, dietary changes, medications, and alternative therapies.
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic digestive tract disorder that affects about 10% to 20% of American adults. Some patients don’t experience symptoms, but those who do typically suffer from diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, cramping, gassiness, or bloating. The symptoms can be severe or mild and they can also come and go from time to time.
But aside from these indicators, some patients also report extraintestinal symptoms – or those symptoms that involve body parts other than the gut. This includes headaches, urination problems, muscle pain, fatigue, and even upper back pain.
Based on patient stories, upper and lower back pain is common among IBS patients but the exact incidence is unknown. Some studies show that backache occurs in about 68% of patients, while other publications recorded higher values at 75% and 81% of IBS patients.
There are lots of possible reasons why patients experience upper back pain with IBS, but the good news is that treating IBS can also relieve their back pain even without specifically targeting it. What’s important is to consult a healthcare provider immediately to diagnose the true cause of the upper back pain and ultimately, to find the right treatment for it.
The exact cause of the upper back pain varies per IBS patient, but here are some of the possible reasons:
Additionally, patients with panic disorders are also more likely to experience increased rates of back pain when they have IBS. This is because the high levels of stress hormones in the body are responsible for increasing the pain perception of patients.
IBS-related back pain is typically described as a backache, but some patients may also experience it as pain between their shoulder blades. Although the gallbladder is quite far from the upper back, the pain may still radiate because of the blockage of bile flow formed by the gallstones. Upper back pain during IBS may manifest as:
IBS-induced upper back pain may be experienced during different times of the day, but some patients experience them worse toward nighttime. If so, then the pain may affect the patient’s sleep or bowel movement.
The duration of IBS back pain mainly depends on the underlying cause. If the pain is chronic, then patients might suffer for weeks or months before the upper back ache is gone. If the pain is caused by another underlying condition, then they should consult with a doctor for treatment options to help them manage their upper back pain.
In some situations, IBS back pain appears and goes away for no apparent reason. Most patients don’t know what triggers their upper back pain with IBS, but the key to getting rid of it for good is to address the underlying digestive issues.
Before trying any treatment for upper back pain or irritable bowel syndrome, the doctor must diagnose the underlying cause or the connection between them first. From there, they can recommend at least one of the following treatment plans for IBS back pain:
Instead of lying down or doing other sedentary movements, many doctors encourage gentle physical activities to ease IBS symptoms and general back pain. Exercising also helps patients manage their stress levels, which is important to avoid triggering IBS symptoms. In some cases, heat and ice application after an exercise routine can help relieve back pain further.
One of the most important ways to avoid triggering IBS symptoms is adjusting the patient’s diet and steering clear of specific food triggers. Some common food triggers to avoid for IBS patients include dairy, gluten, fried food, caffeinated drinks, sugar-free sweeteners, alcoholic beverages, and more. If the upper back pain is caused by IBS-related gas movement, then the healthcare provider may also ask the patient to avoid any food that triggers the overproduction of gas.
Over-the-counter pain medications typically work well for alleviating upper back pain caused by different conditions. But for patients with IBS, it’s important to avoid NSAIDs like ibuprofen because they trigger gastrointestinal issues.
For most patients, the best choice of OTC pain relief medication is acetaminophen but topical medications like lidocaine also work. If you’re unsure which pain medicine to take for IBS upper back pain, it’s best to consult a doctor first before taking anything.
If upper back pain experienced by the patients becomes severe, it’s best to consult a pain physician immediately because they can prescribe stronger medications if necessary. They can recommend the right dosage of short-term muscle relaxants or steroid injections to reduce inflammation for the patient.
Aside from medical treatments, alternative therapies are also great options for relieving upper back pain. Some of the most effective ones are massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic treatment. Additionally, patients may also try cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation exercises to address the stress response that affects IBS symptoms.
Chronic upper and lower back pain are the main symptoms experienced by people with IBS. In addition to backaches, some patients also experience other chronic pain symptoms like migraine, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis when they have irritable bowel syndrome.
If it’s the first time the patient experiences upper back pain with their IBS, then they should see a doctor immediately for a proper diagnosis. The same also goes for patients who suddenly experience worse upper back pain than before. Consulting a pain expert is important because they help identify the main cause of upper back pain and treat it accordingly for long-lasting pain relief.
Many patients experience upper back pain when they have IBS because of referred pain and other physical factors. Certain therapies and medications can help patients manage upper back pain and IBS, but patients still need to consult a doctor to rule out any other reason for their back pain before starting their treatment plan.
If you feel pain in your upper back along with other IBS symptoms, then get in touch with us at Gramercy Pain Center today. We can help you learn why you feel uncomfortable, test the symptoms, and start your personalized treatment plan to alleviate your upper back pain.