Can Back Pain Cause Nausea?

Mar 13, 2022

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Back pain on its own can range from mildly irritating to disabling. However, back pain is rarely ever alone. There are several other symptoms, seemingly unrelated, that tend to be comorbid with back pain, making the entire experience that much more unpleasant to endure. When it comes to these commonly comorbid symptoms, none inspires dread in the masses quite like nausea. The question is, why are back pain and nausea so often seen together? Here at AICA Conyers, we hope to shed some light on this strange combination of symptoms, why they coincide as often as they do, and if it’s something to be concerned about.

Which Causes Which?

In most cases, neither. Back pain and nausea do tend to coexist, but they often do so as symptoms of the same ailment rather than as one being the sole cause of the other. It is rare that your back pain is the sole cause of your nausea. There are many conditions that could cause these symptoms to appear simultaneously, however.

As a quick note before we go in-depth about which conditions fall under this umbrella, do keep in mind that, yes, there is a slim chance that back pain itself can be the cause of your nausea. Severe and chronic pain can negatively affect the body in many ways, and the concision of severe pain and nausea is well-known in medicine. In fact, if you go in for surgery, you’re likely to be held back from being discharged, not because of a severe medical complication but because of the comorbid pain and vomiting that tends to follow intense surgeries. Until a professional can examine you and your individual case, it’s best not to rule out this possibility.

Gastrointestinal Problems

This may seem vague, but this is only because there are quite a few gastrointestinal issues that have led to back pain in the past that have been largely ignored by western sources. The underrepresentation of GI conditions while talking about back pain has likely led to some undue pain and confusion.

One of these unknown culprits is food poisoning. Gastroenteritis is an infection that causes pain and inflammation in the stomach. Salmonella or norovirus are examples of these infections. This illness can produce severe stomach cramps that spread all the way to your back. In the worst-case scenario, it can cause you to vomit so forcefully and persistently that your stomach muscles and back become sore from overuse, much the same way they would after a round of crunches. This virus normally clears up on its own, but if you’re still vomiting after 24 hours and have sunken eyes or other signs of severe dehydration, it’s advised that you go to the hospital.

Ulcers are another common cause of back pain related to the gastrointestinal system. Ulcers are wounds in the stomach, intestines, and other parts of the digestive system. The resulting abdominal discomfort can also radiate to the back, causing mid-to low-back pain. In most cases, such discomfort is only temporary, but some people suffer from it for days or even weeks at a time. A perforating peptic ulcer that enters the pancreas can cause excruciating and chronic back discomfort and could require hospitalization.

Gallbladder Problems

Even less commonly thought of, who even thinks of the gallbladder, in general, most of the time? It’s an oft-forgotten organ, only really ever thought of when it starts producing gallstones. However, it can also contribute to back pain in numerous ways.

One of these ways is through biliary colic. Not to be confused with the colic associated with infants, biliary colic is caused by an obstruction in the gallbladder. This obstruction can cause episodes of moderate-severe abdominal pain that can often radiate to the back, giving the impression that one has caused the other. Anything that temporarily stops the biliary ducts, particularly the cystic duct, might cause biliary colic. Gallstones are the most common cause of these obstructions, however. In most cases, it will require surgery to correct. Though, the symptoms can also be managed without surgical intervention.

Any other condition that prevents the production of bile can also cause similar symptoms. It’s always recommended to visit a professional if you suspect anything wrong with your gallbladder, as many conditions that involve it can quickly turn serious.

Liver Problems

Gallbladder disease symptoms are comparable to those experienced by those with liver disease, making them very hard to discern. The conditions that cause both nausea and back pain are always worthy of immediate hospitalization.

Possibly the least dangerous of these are liver hemangiomas. A hepatic hemangioma is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor composed of clusters of blood-filled cavities in the liver, and it’s estimated that around 20% of the population has them, though that number could be much higher because you may never know that you have one. The majority of liver hemangiomas are asymptomatic, but larger ones might induce abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.

Hemangiomas that are small do not need to be treated, while those that are larger may require surgery. If you’re actually feeling yours, that may be a sign that you’re in the latter group.
The worst-case scenario? You may have cancer. This may present in much the same way as the benign hemangioma listed above, but with a few other symptoms, including jaundice, weight loss, and swelling of the gut. This is especially concerning as primary and metastatic cancers of the liver offer the same symptoms. This means that if you detect cancer in your liver, it could only be in your liver, but it could also have traveled there from a completely separate part of your body.

Appendicitis

The appendix is perhaps most known for its tendency to become infected and rupture seemingly out of the blue. While we now know that it’s not completely useless as science has previously implied, this doesn’t change the fact that the appendix is severely accident-prone, and appendicitis is a prime example of this. Appendicitis occurs when a blockage occurs within the appendix, often in the form of fecal matter, that causes the appendix to become irritated and inflamed. The pain is usually on the lower-right belly, but in severe cases, it can radiate into the back. Appendicitis is always a medical emergency as, even in the early stages, your appendix could rupture at any time, which could lead to the spread of mass infection throughout the whole abdomen.

Heart Attacks

Though heart attacks are often depicted as a sudden pain that stops you in your tracks and forces a hand to your chest, the onset is often far subtler than that, and catching these signs early could buy you the precious time you need to survive what’s to come. The chest pain that radiates into the back is well-known, but did you know that nausea is also a potential warning sign? The exact reasons vary from case to case, but the most common reason is speculated to be the low blood pressure generated on one side of the clogged artery. This symptom is far more common in women than in men and should be considered alongside other heart attack symptoms.

Less Severe Causes

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. While nausea and back pain comorbidity is often a very, very bad sign, there’s also a high chance that it may be treatable at home or even just entirely psychosomatic. However, considering the list of major ailments preceding this, it’s always better to be safe than sorry and visit a doctor anyways.

Pregnancy

Yes, your body will make you feel queasy while you’re trying to stay nourished enough to support a growing human inside of you. Isn’t biology fun? Especially during the first trimester, the expectant mother’s body is flush with hormones. This spike in hormone levels is what tells the body to start preparing for the oncoming baby, but it’s also what is believed to cause that overwhelming nausea.

As for the back pain, this is also a result of the body making way for what, on average, will be a seven-and-a-half pound, nearly two-foot-long mass resting inside the abdomen. This involves shifting the spine back to make room and balance the added weight, which will cause pain, especially in the later stages of pregnancy.
Both of these symptoms are typical of your average pregnancy and are usually no cause for alarm. However, severe morning sickness, in particular, can be cause for concern. Always keep in touch with your gynecologist if you have any concerns regarding your pregnancy.

Stress

The fun part about stress in humans is that there is no distinction between the stress one might receive from a mountain of bills and the stress one might receive from being stalked by a mountain lion. The human stress response is a direct result of our fight-or-flight instincts, meaning that it’s intended to get us away from a source of danger or be prepared to physically confront it in order to survive. Bills are not quite the same life-or-death scenario as a mountain lion, though, so the physical symptoms of stress simply exist as an inconvenience rather than as a vital aid.

Back pain can result as a side effect of the muscles in your whole body tensing up in preparation for an assault, and nausea comes from an instinctual desire to “lighten the load” in your body before breaking into a sprint. Since we (hopefully) don’t need any of this in our modern era, it’s best to find ways to manage your stress. This can be done at home or through the use of a mental health professional such as a therapist or licensed counselor, and shouldn’t be neglected any more than your physical health as the two are codependent. Alternatively, if your stress is so severe that it causes feelings of intense panic and shortness of breath, you may have an anxiety disorder, which can be managed through therapy or medication.

Poor Posture

Somehow, so many problems can be traced back to just sitting wrong. It’s no surprise that slouching over in a desk chair can do a number on your back, but what can come as a surprise is the fact that slouching can be linked to heartburn and acid reflux, both of which can cause a substantial amount of nausea. Although these conditions may seem completely unrelated at first, the way you hold your spine can have a significant impact on acid reflux symptoms. Poor posture exerts strain on the lower esophageal sphincter, which connects the stomach to the esophagus (LES). When the LES is under strain, it is more likely to open after a meal, allowing acidic stomach contents to shoot back up the esophagus and create symptoms of acid reflux. Standing up straight allows the stomach to expand and relieves strain on the LES.

Poor posture can often be corrected at home with a bit of self-awareness. By taking the time to be actively aware of your posture, you can eventually get into the habit of positioning yourself properly. However, if proper posture is proving difficult for you to hold, it may be wise to seek the help of an orthopedic specialist or perhaps a chiropractor. You may have an underlying condition preventing you from fully correcting your posture, such as a herniated disc or scoliosis.

Back Pain and Nausea Treatment with AICA

It should be said that this article is no substitute for actual medical advice from a trained professional. Back pain and nausea are very vague symptoms and, as you can see from the array of ailments on this list, can come from so many different sources that a proper diagnosis requires the aid of a medical professional with knowledge of your medical history. If you’re squeamish about immediately going to the emergency room and want to evaluate your options, we at AICA Conyers may be able to help. Not only do we offer back pain treatment, but our team of trained specialists from multiple different disciplines will be able to pinpoint where the pain is coming from and offer a potentially wider array of treatment options. Consider giving us a call, so we may put your mind (and gut) at ease.

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