Back pain and eating
Experiencing back pain after eating is unusual but not unheard of and is usually caused by an underlying condition. In most cases you will experience secondary symptoms alongside your back pain, such as stomach pain, bloating, heartburn or digestive issues, and identifying 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. If you eat too much, in particular too much of the wrong foods, this will trigger, irritate or exacerbate underlying conditions more severely.
What can cause back pain after eating?
The first thing you should consider if you notice that your back pain is worse after eating is that it may not be the food that is causing pain. Consider what your posture is like when you eat. Do you tend to slouch, bend over your food, or bring your mouth to your fork, rather than the other way around? Do you eat at the dinner table or at a desk, hunched over your keyboard or papers? 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.
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 what other symptoms you experience after eating that may help to indicate what condition you may have. The most common digestive conditions that may cause back pain, and their symptoms, 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
- 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
You should also 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.
- Allergies, intolerances and trigger foods. Some foods can produce an inflammatory response, so if you already experience back pain or have a back injury, this could get worse after eating certain foods. These foods include red meat, dairy, peanuts, refined carbohydrates (like white bread), alcohol and sugar. Check food labels for saturated and trans fats, MSG (mono-sodium glutamate), gluten, aspartame and omega-6 as these ingredients can also cause inflammation. If you are intolerant or allergic to a certain food, this reaction may upset the digestive system which can sometimes cause pain along the back. Certain foods also worsen the conditions that can contribute to back pain – for example spicy food often irritates ulcers.
- Over-eating. Eating too much can cause your stomach to fill up and your abdomen to bloat. This can put 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 is linked to trigger foods because if you eat too much of the wrong foods, this can cause a more serious inflammatory reaction.
What can I do?
First, you should consult your GP. 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 out first to rule these out. If you are diagnosed with an underlying condition it is important you follow your GP’s treatment advice.
If no underlying condition can be found, you should keep a food diary to help identify what foods could be causing your back pain, but also to work out if the type of food, quantity of food, or the time of day of eating 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.
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 ache, 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 or constant. 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.
If your back pain is the result of digestive issues you may find Molkosan useful. This whey drink supports natural enzyme function and promotes healthy gut bacteria to aid digestion. Digestisan can also help with indigestion, bloating and abdominal discomfort.