Back pain linked to eating
Back pain that is definitely linked to eating can have a few different causes and, therefore, treatments. In this blog, I look at the following points:
- What can cause back pain whilst eating?
- What can cause back pain after eating?
- What can you do about back pain that occurs during and after meals?
What can cause back pain whilst eating?
Back pain after eating is usually caused by an underlying condition and in most cases, you will experience secondary symptoms alongside your back pain, such as stomach pain, bloating, heartburn or digestive issues. Identifying a connection between these can often help find the root cause of the problem.
The amount you are eating and the kinds of food you are eating can also play a role in back pain. Eating too much (particularly the wrong type of foods) will trigger, irritate or exacerbate underlying conditions.
On top of this, failing to chew your food thoroughly or drinking a lot with meals may cause back pain whilst eating, particularly if the problem is concentrated at the top of your back.
What can cause back pain after eating?
If you notice that your back pain is worse after eating, the first thing to consider is that your food may not be where the problem lies.
Slouching, bending over your food or bringing your mouth to the fork rather than the other way around can all contribute to digestive issues and back pain. If you eat at a desk or on the couch with your body hunched over, this will also cause problems.
|Top tips: Remember to sit up straight while you eat, and tuck a cushion or rolled-up towel between the chair and your lower back to provide extra support. Always sit at a table and avoid doing other activities whilst you eat, such as watching television, as this can cause you to slouch or eat mindlessly.
2. Digestive conditions
If bad posture is not the cause of your back pain, then it is likely that it is a symptom of an underlying digestive condition, as these can sometimes lead to back pain. We call this 'pain referral', which is when pain or problems in one part of the body result in the appearance of pain in a different, seemingly unrelated, part of the body.
Think about whether or not you experience any other symptoms after eating, as this may help to indicate what condition you have. The most common digestive conditions that can cause back pain are:
- An ulcer. These most commonly occur in the stomach or oesophagus. This open sore will often be irritated by spicy food, sugary foods, alcohol or stress, and will also cause stomach pain that is often described as a gnawing or burning pain.
- Gallstones. The gallbladder sits just underneath the liver and releases a substance called bile that helps digest food. Small stones can develop in the gall bladder and this can cause severe pain which can often extend into the back, often towards the right shoulder blade.
- Pancreatitis. This is when the pancreas, an organ that sits just behind the stomach, becomes inflamed. This causes stomach pain that can extend into the back and left shoulder blade. You may also experience nausea and indigestion. This condition can be acute or chronic and requires urgent medical attention.
- Appendicitis. This is when the appendix becomes inflamed and, if left untreated, it can rupture, causing serious problems. Common symptoms are pain in the middle of the abdomen which travels to the lower right and side, nausea, diarrhoea and fever. In some cases, you may experience pain in your lower back. Symptoms are often sudden and severe, and you should seek immediate medical help if you think you have appendicitis.
|If you are concerned about any of the issues above, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms in more depth.
3. Certain foods
Certain foods can produce an inflammatory response so if you already experience back pain or have a back injury, this could get worse after eating these foods.
Inflammatory foods include red meat, dairy, peanuts, refined carbohydrates (like white bread), alcohol and sugar. Also, check food labels for saturated and trans fats, MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), gluten, aspartame and omega-6 content, as these ingredients can cause inflammation too.
For information on anti-inflammatory foods you should aim to include in your diet, check out my blog 8 inflammation-fighting foods for your muscles and joints.
4. Food intolerance/allergies
If you are intolerant or allergic to a certain food, this reaction may upset the digestive system and, in turn, cause pain along the back. Certain foods also worsen conditions that can contribute to back pain – for example, spicy food often irritates ulcers.
|Remember! Consider your eating habits, such as what you are eating and how much you are eating, as this can sometimes cause back pain, or worsen the conditions that are causing your back pain.
Over-eating can be a problem as it may cause your stomach to fill up and your abdomen to bloat. This puts increased pressure on your back.
In most cases, this pressure won't be high enough to cause back pain but if you already suffer from back pain, injury or strain, this pressure may be enough to trigger a painful response.
This issue can also be linked to trigger foods. If you eat too much of the wrong foods (such as those inflammatory options listed above) this can cause a more serious inflammatory reaction.
|Fact – Dehydration can sometimes be mistaken for hunger, so before you go rummaging in the cupboard for snacks, slowly drink a glass of water to see if that satisfies your cravings. If not, opt for an anti-inflammatory fruit like cherries or berries.
What can I do about back pain that occurs during and after meals?
To help manage back pain that occurs during or after meals, there are a few things I can suggest.
See your GP
First of all, since there are a number of conditions that could be causing your back pain, some of which are serious, it is best to get it checked by your GP to rule any of these out. If you are diagnosed with an underlying condition, it is important you follow your GP's treatment advice.
Keep a food diary
If no underlying condition can be found, you could keep a food diary to help identify what foods could be causing your back pain. Also, this helps to work out if the type of food, quantity of food, or timing of your meals has any effect on the severity or location of pain.
This can help you adjust your diet to reduce your symptoms and, in some cases, it may also help identify a cause for the pain.
Try Devil's Claw
Depending on the cause of your back pain, there are a number of herbal remedies that may prove helpful. Devil's Claw is used to reduce muscle aches, joint pain and back ache. It is most effective when taken long term, so will only be useful if your back pain is regularly occurring.
Apply Atrogel Arnica gel
Atrogel Arnica gel is also useful for muscle and joint pain, sprains, strains and swelling and is effective for pain that appears suddenly and sporadically as it can be rubbed directly on the affected area for soothing relief.
Address digestive problems
If your back pain is the result of digestive issues, you may find Molkosan Fruit useful. This whey drink supports natural enzyme function and promotes healthy gut bacteria to aid digestion.
Another option is Digestisan, which can help with indigestion, bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Originally published 8 July 2016 (updated 27 July 2020)