Constipation is a common condition characterized by infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stool. It’s the most common gastrointestinal complaint and can cause symptoms that include painful bowel movements, bloating, and abdominal pain.
Because of the significant area covered by the intestinal system, constipation may also cause another symptom, back pain. Continue reading to learn more about how constipation can cause back pain and when it is time to see a doctor.
Table of Contents
- Symptoms Of Constipation
- Can Constipation Cause Lower Back Pain?
- How Can Constipation Cause Back Pain?
- When To See a Doctor?
- FAQ about constipation and back pain
- Key Takeaways
Symptoms Of Constipation
Constipation occurs when someone experiences three or fewer bowel movements a week or has frequent difficulty with passing a bowel movement.
Additional symptoms of constipation include:
- pain passing stool
- hard or lumpy stool
- straining to pass a bowel movement
- feeling of fullness
- stomach cramps, aches, or abdominal pain
- increased flatulence
Constipation can also cause some less common symptoms, such as a lack of energy, nausea, and loss of appetite.
Having constipation also increases the risk of other conditions, such as hemorrhoids or hernia from straining.
Can Constipation Cause Lower Back Pain?
Constipation can cause discomfort and pain in the abdomen and lower back, which results from the swelling of the intestines due to retained fecal matter. In essence, the stool builds up in the intestines, causing them to swell and press against nearby nerves.
Most cases of lower back pain connected to constipation are described as feeling dull and aching.
How Can Constipation Cause Back Pain?
There are many ways in which constipation may result in back pain, some more serious than others.
Digestive Tract Blockage
The most common explanation for back pain caused by constipation revolves around the blockage in the digestive tract pressing against the muscles and nerves in your back. In particular, stool buildup in the intestines often presses against the sacral nerves, which are located in the lower back. This is why those with constipation may suffer from lower back pain.
The pressure caused by the buildup of stool causes the brain to receive a range of feedback, translating to pain. As the stool gets bigger, so does the pressure and feedback to the brain. Because of this, the longer someone is constipated, the more lower back pain they may feel.
General constipation can result from the following:
- poor diet
- sudden injury
- lack of exercise
Determining which of the factors above contributed to constipation and addressing them can help relieve the blockage and reduce lower back pain.
Fecal impaction is a severe condition resulting from constant constipation that occurs when there is stool stuck inside the rectum. This blockage in the intestines then causes pressure to build up around the surrounding organs.
In addition to back pain, fecal impaction can cause:
These symptoms can form gradually or all at once, and your pain will often increase until the blockage has been treated.
Fecal impaction differs from constipation. Constipation is a difficulty with pooping, but constant constipation can lead to fecal impaction, or blockages of stool in the intestines that the body cannot naturally pass.
As A Result of Another Condition
Sometimes, constipation and back pain result from another condition, not from each other. For example, an infection of the spinal cord may cause back pain, and constipation can also result as a side effect of the condition.
When To See a Doctor?
Occasional constipation is normal for adults to experience, and most minor cases can typically be resolved through at-home remedies such as exercising more and eating a higher-fiber diet.
However, it is time to see a doctor if more serious symptoms accompany your constipation, such as:
- blood in the stool or from the rectum
- no bowel movement in more than seven days
- inability to pass gas
- back pain that does not improve after a bowel movement
- severe pain
- unexplained weight loss
If you have any of the above symptoms, contact a healthcare professional, as they may indicate a medical emergency.
If you are unable to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician, DrHouse can connect you with an online doctor in just 15 minutes who can go over your symptoms with you and discuss treatment strategies to ease your back pain and constipation.
Can constipation cause back pain on one side?
When constipation is the cause of your back pain, it is typically a dull ache along the lower back. Back pain related to constipation is not generally concentrated on one side but instead affects the whole lower back.
If you are experiencing back pain on only one side, it is likely from a tissue-related problem, such as irritating a muscle. Another possible cause is a problem relating to an organ found on only the side of the pain, such as the kidneys.
One case where constipation may cause one-sided back pain is in the case of gastrointestinal conditions, such as ulcerative colitis. Frequent abdominal cramping from this inflammatory bowel disease can cause pain in the lower right back in addition to constipation.
Can constipation cause severe back pain?
Severe back pain is not often a result of constipation. While constipation may cause lower back pain, it more often resembles a mild pain or dull aching. If you are experiencing severe back pain, it is recommended to discuss this with your doctor to determine what the cause may be.
Can back pain cause constipation?
In some cases, the reverse might be true, and back pain causes constipation. One instance is in cases of strained or tight back muscles. When these muscles are tight, they can interfere with the nerves controlling your bowel movements, leading to constipation.
In other cases, back pain may be a sign of a condition that also has constipation as a side effect, such as a tumor or infection of the spinal cord. When these conditions damage the spinal cord, they can also damage the nerves in charge of controlling the intestines and colon, affecting the body’s ability to have regular bowel movements.
Can a blocked bowel cause back pain?
A blocked bowel, also known as fecal impaction, can cause back pain. This is because the buildup of stool in the intestines causes an increase in pressure that then builds up in the surrounding organs. This can then translate to back pain. Once the blocked bowel is resolved, back pain typically dissipates.
Constipation is a common digestive issue that makes it difficult to pass stool or causes infrequent bowel movements. One possible symptom of constipation is back pain, which is centralized to the lower back and described as feeling dull and achy.
Constipation, in general, can cause back pain when the buildup of stool presses on the sacral nerves in the lower back. However, constant constipation can also cause fecal impaction, which results in a buildup of pressure in the intestines and surrounding organs, potentially causing back pain.
In some cases, back pain does not result from constipation but from another condition that has constipation as a side effect as well. If you are ever concerned about your back pain, reach out to an online doctor to discuss your symptoms and what at-home remedies you can employ to feel better.
- Fecal impaction: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (2021). https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000230.htm
- Iturrino JC, Lembo AJ. Constipation. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran’s Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 19.
- Zainea GC. Management of fecal impaction. In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler’s Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 208.
- Common causes of constipation – Harvard Health. (2018). https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/common-causes-of-constipation
- Symptoms & Causes of Constipation | NIDDK. (2018) https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/symptoms-causes
- Chakiath, R., Siddall, P., Kellow, J., Hush, J., Jones, M., Marcuzzi, A., & Wrigley, P. (2015). Descending pain modulation in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): a systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic Reviews, 4(1). doi: https://www.doi.org/10.1186/s13643-015-0162-8
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