Upper Back Pain After Eating: Causes and Treatment

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The American Chiropractic Association reported that up to 80% of people will experience upper back pain during their lifetime. Considering the fact that lifestyle and posture issues are prominent today, this may not be surprising. However, back pain that comes on after eating is different because it can't be caused by poor posture alone. In some circumstances, when you feel upper back pain after eating, the issue may not even be with your back.

So what are the causes and treatment for upper back pain after eating? The kind of pain you're experiencing may be a referred pain, which occurs in one part of the body, radiates to another part, which in this instance is your back. If you observe that your upper back pain is persistent and growing worse over time, it's extremely important to seek immediate medical attention and develop a treatment plan to treat the underlying condition.

What Effect Does Eating Have on Upper Back Pain?

At some point in our lives, we have all experienced back pain. When your back pain becomes persistent and affects your movements and posture rather than being episodic, that's when the serious problems start. Although, we may sometimes be experiencing other issues in our body that may not necessarily be connected to the center of pain. The tension and sharp pain you experience may occur due to conditions that have developed over time.

How Referred Back Pain Works

Nearly every part of the human body is interconnected in some way. In the weeks to months that you heal from a knee injury, you'll probably start to walk differently. Your back, neck, and spine may then experience problems as a result of this. The same applies to the other conditions in our body. You can start to have problems with your knees, hips, or other extremities if you have a back injury.

Referred Pain From Eating: Explained

Referred pain occurs when a problem in one area of your body results in pain in another. For example, there may be a possibility that you have a stomach condition if you are experiencing pain near your shoulder blades in the upper back. Referred back pain after eating may result from conditions affecting your chest or abdominal organs. A serious condition may cause this kind of back pain, so it’s vital to have it examined by a doctor as soon as possible.

Addressing the Source of the Pain

You'll want to take care of the underlying condition before anything else, keeping in mind the idea of referred pain. In order for health professionals to be aware of what's happening, you should explain to them whether you are experiencing other issues that may have gradually led to back pain. After the potential complications have been treated, you can proceed to dealing with the upper back pain that has grown over time.

The Impact of Eating on Upper Back Pain

Occasionally abdominal bloating and feeling uncomfortable after eating is normal for most people. After a filling lunch, you can even feel a bit weary, which is also very natural. Although, some people may have pain and pressure in their backs when eating, leading them to believe they should consult a spine specialist. But the soreness can simply be a small intestinal annoyance. 

Other times, it might be a common symptom of something more serious, such as conditions unrelated to the spine. Here's a closer examination at some potential underlying reasons why eating can trigger back pain.

1) Peptic Ulcer

The esophagus, which connects your throat to your stomach, and the stomach are where ulcers are most likely to develop. But note that a peptic ulcer can form practically anywhere throughout the digestive tract. The majority of the time, severe stomach pain from inflamed stomach ulcers is felt in the upper abdomen, though the thoracic spine can also be affected. 

Although excessive consumption of spicy processed food or alcohol may also be a factor, bacterial infection is the common cause of stomach ulcers. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of common stomach bacteria, is a major cause of ulcers. Immediate treatment for this bacterial infection is crucial. If you don't seek proper medical attention, it may develop into some types of intestinal cancer, resulting in more upper back pain.

2) Food Sensitivities and Allergies

Particular foods are the common cause of abdominal bloating and inflammatory reactions, so if you already have back pain or a back injury, consuming certain foods could make it worse. The digestive system may get irritated as a result of an allergy or intolerance to a certain food, which will lead to referred back pain. Additionally, some foods worsen issues that can cause back pain. For instance, spicy food may frequently aggravate ulcers.

Some food or ingredients must be completely avoided by people who have food allergies because they might induce an abnormal immune reaction. In rare situations, these reactions can be life-threatening. The most typical food allergies are those to wheat, milk, peanuts, shellfish, and eggs.

If you’re worried about having an intolerance or allergy, schedule an appointment with a medical professional so they can validate your suspicions. A medical professional will also be helping you navigate through mealtime, allowing you to avoid back pain and severe reactions.

3) Heartburn 

Most commonly associated with a burning sensation of throat and chest pain, heartburn can also cause discomfort in the middle of the back. The back, shoulders, and arms may also experience referred pain from acid reflux. Stomach acid runs back up into your esophagus, the tube that connects to your mouth, causing gastroesophageal reflux disease. 

In the absence of nerve compression around your spine that may be causing such symptoms, it might help to take preventative measures for heartburn. Reduce your consumption of highly acidic or spicy meals to lessen problems with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease. If you frequently experience acid reflux, it's wise to mention it with your healthcare professional because stomach acid can harm the esophagus.

4) Pancreatitis

A condition known as pancreatitis is defined by upper abdominal pain brought on by inflammation of the pancreas, a gland that aids in digesting and blood sugar regulation and is situated beyond the stomach in the upper abdomen. In general, mild symptoms of pancreatitis may become more noticeable when eating due to the way the pancreas functions. 

Since food digestion enzymes are released when you eat, this can aggravate your pancreas even more. A few days of fasting to allow the gland to heal or anti-inflammatory medicine are often prescribed as treatments. Acute pancreatitis frequently manifests as intense central abdominal pain that’s felt below the stomach, nausea, radiating mid-back pain, and vomiting.

Sometimes the pain is localized to the back and abdomen, which might be misinterpreted for pain from muscular spasms. A consultation with your doctor is essential because pancreatitis is the most serious potential cause of back pain during meals. Although viral infections are also possible, alcoholics and drug users are more likely to experience chronic pancreatitis. A higher risk of pancreatic cancer is associated with chronic pancreatitis.

5) Bad Posture

Eating is frequently a shared activity that emphasizes discussion as well as the variety of food and beverages being consumed. As a result, you might be slouching or shifting your weight excessively to one side or the other without even realizing it. 

But note that back pain that appears to be related to eating might also be a result of bad postural habits. Similarly, slouching while eating snacks and watching television can cause problems with your posture. Being more aware of your posture will help you avoid this form of eating-related back pain by:

  • By rearranging the food on the table, you can avoid reaching too far
  • Keeping your legs uncrossed and straight
  • Sitting at the dining table with your back straight
  • Consciously trying to keep your head and shoulders in line

6) Gallbladder Disease or Gallstones

The gallbladder is shaped like a pear and is found beneath the liver alongside the bile duct. It holds and secretes bile, a substance that aids in the body's digestion of fats. Gallstones are more likely to cause the gallbladder to become inflamed. A gallbladder attack, in which the organ may become inflamed and painful, can be brought on by eating fatty food.

An attack of a gallbladder disease typically causes nausea and excruciating pain in the upper abdomen. Additionally, gallbladder attacks can also cause pain and discomfort to spread to the upper back or thoracic spine.

Treatment for Eating-Related Upper Back Pain

A man's hand rejecting an alcoholic drink.

The underlying cause of back pain will determine the best course of treatment. Consult health professionals to create a treatment plan specifically tailored to your condition if you've been suffering other illnesses that are starting to progress into chronic pain. The following is a list of standard treatments for back pain after eating.

1) Dietary Adjustments

Removing trigger foods from the diet may be beneficial if back pain is brought on by indigestion, heartburn, ulcers, or food intolerances. Keep a meal journal or consult with a dietician to identify trigger foods. While individuals have different trigger foods, the following are frequently to blame:

  • Alcohol
  • Spicy food
  • Peanuts
  • Milk and lactose products
  • Caffeine
  • Sweets and chocolates
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat and bread

2) Medications

Depending on the condition, the medications used to relieve back pain after eating can differ greatly. For instance, antibiotics may be necessary for patients with kidney infections and Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infections. But keep in mind it’s important to note that antibiotics must be prescribed by a healthcare practitioner. 

When pancreatitis symptoms and gallbladder inflammation are moderate, painkillers may be able to manage the symptoms. On the other hand, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and ulcers can all be treated with acid blockers and proton pump inhibitors. 

3) Exercise and Physical Therapy

Keeping your body active while allowing physical therapists to address your poor posture is the best course of action if you have a posture condition, such as spinal stenosis. Exercises and stretches will assist your core muscles get stronger, while supporting your back and spine. 

Among the various low-impact workouts that can be helpful for treating back pain are yoga, pilates, and tai chi. Physical therapy can help treat other physical issues such inflamed muscles and tendons, arthritis, ruptured discs, and muscle strain and pinched nerves. Additionally, use at-home remedies including ice packs, topical pain relievers, and plenty of rest.

When to See a Professional Pain Doctor

The presence of chronic pain often indicates a problem. When you next see your doctor, you might want to let them know if you occasionally get pain after eating. Even if the pain doesn't interfere with your ability to function, it may still be worth mentioning to be able to take the proper preventative measures.

But note that it's imperative that you schedule a consultation with your healthcare practitioner immediately if you frequently experience chronic pain after eating or if your pain is severe. The first step in developing a treatment plan is a proper diagnosis and medical attention.

If any of these symptoms are present in addition to severe pain, get emergency attention immediately:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chest pain
  • Jaundice
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Chills
  • Stomach pain

Preventing Upper Back Pain After Eating

Everyday activities should include protecting your spine and avoiding all types of back discomfort, including upper back pain. You can't just occasionally practice proper posture, work out, or maintain a healthy diet. Although the thoracic spine is less prone to these degenerative changes, your spine ages as you do.

The following are some recommendations for avoiding back pain after eating:

  • Exercise regularly to maintain muscle strength and prevent bad posture.
  • Maintain good posture and utilize lower back support if necessary, especially when eating or working at a desk.
  • Stay away from meals that induce heartburn and intolerances
  • Minimize stress to prevent agitating ulcers and causing muscular tightness
  • Decrease alcohol intake
  • Avoid foods that are too greasy, spicy, or sweet
  • Manage and treat underlying illnesses and infections immediately

Receive Professional Back Pain Intervention from Gramercy Pain Center

Back pain that persists after eating is frequently the outcome of referred pain from another part of the body, and it isn't always a serious problem. But it's still crucial to contact a doctor if the sharp pain persists or is followed by additional symptoms. People who experience back discomfort after eating can often manage it by changing their lifestyle, making dietary adjustments, or seeking medical intervention.

With the assistance of our staff at Gramercy Pain Center, you can experience lasting pain relief. No matter how long you've been suffering from upper back pain, we can provide effective treatments and services that ensure you never need to experience it any longer. Take the first step toward a more pain-free life by contacting our office now. We also offer online scheduling for an easier and more convenient initial visit.

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