We won't sugarcoat it: America is facing a constipation crisis. 16% of people deal with chronic constipation (fewer than three bowel movements per week), making it the most common gastrointestinal complaint.
There's a long list of unpleasant symptoms you can experience if you're not pooping enough, like cramping, abdominal pain, lumpy stools, and nausea. But one potential symptom is confusing: back pain.
Back pain doesn't make Mayo Clinic's list of common symptoms of constipation. And yet, thousands of people on Reddit report having sore, stiff, painful backs whenever they haven't dropped a deuce in a while.
We weren't content to leave this mystery unsolved, so we dug through the trenches to find out whether constipation can cause back pain, how it happens, and what you can do to find relief.
Can Constipation Cause Back Pain?
It's definitely possible for constipation to cause lower back pain, although it's not a super common side effect. Chronic constipation causes low-grade inflammation throughout the body, which can radiate into your back.
The link between infrequent bowel movements and back pain isn't 100% clear, but one possible cause is fecal impaction. That's a fancy way of saying there's a buildup of hard, dry stool in the colon or rectum. This pressure can cause low back pain.
Back pain from constipation is more prevalent among people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In fact, it's estimated that 28-81% of IBS patients deal with back pain. Correlation doesn't prove causation, but there are some theories to consider.
Blockages in the digestive system cause swelling and discomfort, but the brain can't pinpoint exactly where the pain comes from. As a result, you may attribute the pain to your lower back, buttocks, legs, or upper back. This is called "referred pain."
Folks in the r/IBS subreddit seem to struggle with this a lot.
"My stomach pain often seems to correlate with my back pain," says oldkingcoles. "When my stomach is really hurting me my back is often hurting in the same spot. Or they alternate, it's either my back or stomach. My gastroenterologist told me that the two aren't associated, but after years of dealing with this I'm convinced there is something connecting the two."
"I have this as well and it often radiates into my legs," says snzrrr. "I get this when I'm really constipated and the [physical therapists] I'm seeing are quite sure that it's because of IBS. Like all this constipation and bloating pushes onto some nerves or something."
Bottom line: You're not crazy if you suspect a link between your back pain and poop probz.
What Does Back Pain from Constipation Feel Like?
Back pain from constipation is usually described as a dull ache that radiates from the abdomen to the lower back. Some IBS patients have reported a sharp pain, cramping, and a sense of fullness or pressure.
Constipation can cause chronic pain in your back, or it may only happen in certain positions like bending over. The pain can also flare up when you're trying to push poop out.
Keep in mind that other causes of back pain can mimic these symptoms, like a herniated disc, sciatica, or spinal cord injury. It might be smart to get medical advice to rule out something serious.
How to Manage Back Pain from Constipation
If you tell your healthcare provider you have back pain, chances are they'll start you off with the same treatment options: rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medications. However, we found some more helpful home remedies and lifestyle changes in the r/IBS community.
- "I take stool softeners and drink smoothies with spinach (limited banana and only ripe banana though!"
- "Definitely make sure you're getting enough water…I also take fiber supplements if it's really bad."
- Try an over-the-counter laxative.
- Try some light physical activity like yoga or walking—lack of exercise is a leading cause of constipation.
Back pain from constipation can come and go, but if you start running a fever or vomiting, it's time to see a doctor ASAP.
Another Possible Scenario: Back Pain Causes Constipation
Back injuries can turn otherwise easy activities into a huge pain—literally—and they can also make passing stool more difficult.
Back pain isn't a super common cause of constipation, but it's definitely possible. Your back is a winding maze of skeletal structures, nerve endings, muscles, and connective tissue. Injuries and medical conditions can interfere with your "gut-brain axis," which tells your body it's time to drop a deuce.
Back pain can also lead to poor sleep, a lack of physical activity, and stress—three huge risk factors for constipation. If your back is screwed up, physical therapy can resolve the underlying issue and, in turn, get your pooping schedule back on track.
Don't Add Butt Pain to Your Back Pain
Back pain and constipation are bad enough on their own—the last thing you need is a chapped, itchy b-hole to jack up your swag. When you finally find sweet relief on the throne, don't scrape your third pit with sandpaper.
Give your ass some respect and grab a DUDE Wipe. You deserve it after all you've been through.