Is There A Connection Between Upper Right Back Pain and Your Gallbladder?

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Upper back pain is a debilitating condition that's mostly caused by any strain, pressure, or injury to the spinal structures. There’s no doubt that living with upper back pain is uncomfortable regardless of whether its symptoms are mild or severe. However, having pain in the upper back can be especially distressing if you have other health disorders that may be causing your discomfort such as gallstones. 

So how do gallbladder problems cause upper back pain? When a gallstone gets stuck in the bile duct or if the gallbladder becomes inflamed, it can cause referred pain that’s felt in your upper back. You may experience this along with other symptoms of a gallbladder attack such as abdominal pain, shoulder pain, nausea, vomiting, or jaundice. It’s best to seek medical care to get appropriate treatment for your upper back and gallbladder pain. 

Is There Upper Back Pain with Gallbladder Problems? 

Upper back pain is one of the most common disorders that can affect anyone at some point in their life. There’s approximately 39% of American adults who experience decreased quality of life due to upper back pain symptoms. This pain is increasingly seen among older individuals since their muscles, joints, and cartilage tissues naturally diminish strength and flexibility with age. 

However, there are also a number of patients who report having upper back pain with other health conditions. In some cases, moderate to severe pain in the upper back and between the shoulder blades can be associated with a type of gallbladder disease. 

Although most gallbladder issues aren’t always symptomatic, there’s at least 20% of individuals may develop symptoms such as abdominal pain. Some gallbladder patients also describe having sharp pain that radiates to the shoulder and upper back muscles. 

Understanding the Gallbladder 

When you look at the anatomy of the body, the gallbladder isn’t remotely close to your upper back. This small organ is actually located in your upper right abdomen and near the liver. It’s a part of the digestive system that stores bile to help metabolize fats. It’s also connected by the common bile duct to transport bile from the liver and gallbladder to the pancreas and small intestine. 

Although it helps support essential digestive functions, some individuals can still live a healthy and normal life without the gallbladder. There are cases when a doctor may recommend a gallbladder removal surgery to stop the severe pain in your upper abdomen and address the discomfort caused by symptomatic gallstones.  

How Often Does Upper Back Pain Relate to the Gallbladder? 

The most common cause of upper right back pain with the gallbladder is cholelithiasis or gallstones. These are hardened, stone-like deposits of bile that can form in the gallbladder. Most gallstones are made of cholesterol and usually appear yellowish or green, while the other type of gallstone is made of bilirubin and looks smaller and darker in color. 

It’s possible to develop a gallstone without noticing any symptoms. However, if the gallstone travels from the gallbladder and blocks the bile duct, it can cause sharp and severe pain in your upper abdomen and under the ribcage. It may also lead to referred pain in your arm, shoulder, or upper back. 

According to a study, about 60% of cases of symptomatic gallstones may be associated with upper back pain and also occur together with nausea and vomiting. Back pain may also worsen during gallbladder attacks in the evening, especially when you’re lying on your side which constricts your gallbladder. 

Other Possible Reasons for Upper Back Pain Associated with Gallbladder

If your gallstone problem isn’t immediately treated, it may lead to other complications that can affect your gallbladder and its surrounding organs. These conditions may also lead to symptoms of acute upper back pain that can affect your quality of life. 

1) Cholecystitis

This medical condition refers to the inflammation of your gallbladder. This can happen when a gallstone blocks the bile duct, causing fluid to accumulate in the gallbladder. Acute cholecystitis often causes constant pain in the upper abdomen and can radiate to the upper back. It may also mimic cardiovascular symptoms such as chest pain that can last for a few minutes. 

2) Biliary Colic 

When gallstones continue to build up in the bile duct, it can cause the gallbladder to contract as it tries to move the fluid past the blockage. This often leads to biliary colic which is described as a dull, intermittent pain in the upper abdomen. It may also radiate to the thoracic spine and cause acute upper back pain. 

3) Gallstone Pancreatitis

A gallstone may also cause a blockage in the pancreatic duct which can lead to acute pancreatitis. When gallstones impede the normal flow of bile to the small intestine, there’s a possibility that the fluid may irritate the pancreas and cause temporary inflammation of the organ. Some common symptoms of gallstone pancreatitis are abdominal pain, referred back pain, swollen belly, dehydration, fever, and nausea. 

4) Gallbladder Cancer 

This is an uncommon type of cancer that happens when malignant cells have metastasized in the tissues of your gallbladder. Most cases of gallbladder cancer go unnoticed since it’s hard to detect its symptoms in the early stages. However, its signs and symptoms can include abdominal pain, weight loss, bloating , and yellowing of the skin. It may also cause upper back pain if the cancer cells have spread to the spine. 

5) Biliary Dyskinesia

This refers to the dysfunction of the gallbladder where it can’t effectively transport fluid from the common bile duct. It can also cause sphincter of Oddi dysfunction when the small muscular valve fails to contract and empty the bile duct. The accumulation of bile in the gallbladder can lead to bloating, acid reflux, upper abdominal pain, headaches, and weight loss. It can also cause stabbing pain that spreads to the sides of your body or the upper back. 

When Is Upper Back Pain Indicating Gallbladder Issues? 

Upper back pain from gallbladder diseases usually come and go, but in chronic cases, the pain can feel sharp and throbbing for days. It may also cause muscle tightness, weakness, stiffness, and headaches. You should immediately check with your doctor if you feel gallbladder and upper back pain with the following signs: 

  • Severe abdominal pain that makes it difficult to sit still or lie in a comfortable position
  • Worsening upper back pain that already interferes with your work and activities 
  • High fever and chills with back and gallbladder pain
  • Change in bowel movement or loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Difficulty breathing 

Other Common Upper Back Pain and Gallbladder Symptoms 

If you notice a sudden gnawing pain in your upper abdomen or belly, it’s usually an indication of a gallbladder attack. This pain may also sometimes be caused by kidney stones, appendicitis, stomach ulcer, and kidney disease or infection. Most attacks briefly last for 15 minutes to an hour, but in some patients, it may also occur for several days and subside on its own. 

Here are the other signs and symptoms of upper back and gallbladder pain that you need to watch out for: 

  • Sudden cramps or sharp pain in the abdomen
  • Pain after eating a meal 
  • Shoulder pain 
  • Abdominal tenderness 
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever with chills
  • Sweating
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Change of urine color 

Diagnosing and Treating Upper Back Pain from Gallbladder Diseases  

Upper back pain that comes with gallbladder attacks may need to be immediately evaluated by your healthcare provider. They may conduct several medical tests to confirm the presence of  gallstones in your gallbladder and come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Some of the exams that can be used to diagnose your gallbladder condition are: 

  • Abdominal ultrasound - A type of imaging test that shows if there are any inflammation, blockage, or abnormal growths in the bile duct or gallbladder. 
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography - This test combines X-ray technology with endoscopy to look for gallstones, inflammation, and other signs of gallbladder disease. 
  • Blood tests - Doctors may also request blood tests to check if you have gallbladder infections or rule out pancreatitis and other possible complications such as a kidney stone.
  • HIDA scan - This exam evaluates the overall function of your liver, bile duct, and gallbladder. This can help diagnose if you have gallbladder motility issues or emptying dysfunctions. 

Best Treatment Methods for Your Upper Back Pain and Gallbladder Problem

Depending on the exact cause of your gallbladder and upper back pain, doctors can recommend either an interventional pain management solution or surgery to address your condition. Here are some of the ways you can get relief from your back pain and gallbladder symptoms: 

  • Pain medication - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage the abdominal pain and upper back pain from gallstone problems. They can provide temporary relief for sudden gallbladder attacks.
  • Hot compress - This popular form of home remedy helps alleviate gallbladder pain and relieves the pressure from spasms and bile buildup. This can also support healthier circulation to the joints and muscles in your upper back to improve the pain.
  • Exercise - One of the best ways to address and lower your risk for developing gallstones is to have regular physical activity. This can lower cholesterol level to prevent gallstones and helps maintain a healthy weight to improve gallbladder pain. Doing gentle exercises and physical therapy can also lessen your upper back pain.
  • Surgery - In serious cases, you may need to undergo a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder and improve inflammation and upper back pain from gallstones. The most common procedure is the laparoscopic cholecystectomy which only involves a few incisions on the abdomen. Having gallbladder removal surgery is an effective way to stop the recurrence of gallstones. 

See Our Specialists at Gramercy Pain Center For Your Gallbladder and Upper Right Back Pain 

Gallbladder issues can cause a variety of uncomfortable symptoms, including upper back pain. While there are natural home remedies that can provide relief from both gallbladder and back pain, it’s still best to consult with a reliable healthcare provider who can diagnose your condition and provide an appropriate treatment plan. 

Gramercy Pain Center is a trusted pain management clinic that provides holistic therapies and minimally invasive solutions to improve your discomfort. Our team of board-certified physicians and skilled staff can provide excellent care and treatment to help you get better from your gallbladder and upper right back pain. Call us today to schedule a consultation or fill out the form on our website

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