Can Acid Reflux Cause Back Pain?

A woman with a laptop on her lap holding her neck/shoulders. She appears to be physically uncomfortable.
  • Acid reflux is a burning sensation in the stomach, chest, and throat caused by bile or stomach acid in the esophagus.
  • Many factors can contribute to the development of acid reflux, including a poor diet and bad lifestyle choices.
  • Symptoms of acid reflux include abdominal pain, heartburn, indigestion, and nausea.
  • Acid reflux can be treated using various at-home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Acid reflux is a common condition affecting over 15 million Americans daily.

Mild cases of acid reflux can usually be treated at home with medication like antacids.

However, it can be life-threatening if not treated properly and may even lead to esophageal cancer — a disease that affects 20,000 Americans each year.

This article will outline what exactly acid reflux is, the causes, and treatment options to help you manage its symptoms.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a burning sensation that is felt in the stomach, chest, and throat.

It’s caused by stomach acid or bile that pushes up past the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) — the part of the esophagus that opens and closes when we eat or drink.

Acid reflux causes an uncomfortable sensation that can also result in chest tightness. It often leaves a sour or bitter taste in the mouth that comes from the stomach bile.

Key Point: What is the Difference between Acid Reflux, Heartburn, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

Acid reflux happens when the esophageal sphincter muscle relaxes and causes stomach acid to push up into the esophagus.

GERD is a chronic or severe form of acid reflux. A person can develop GERD if their initial acid reflux symptoms are left untreated.

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux and GERD. It usually causes the burning pain you feel in your chest area.

What Are Common Acid Reflux Symptoms?

Your symptoms might vary depending on the severity of your acid reflux. Common symptoms include:

  • A burning pain in your stomach and chest

  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking

  • Indigestion that can manifest as burping, belching, and bloating

  • Abdominal pain

  • Regurgitation that can leave a sour or bitter taste in your mouth or cause dry heaving

  • Feeling as if there is food stuck in your throat

  • Lower back pain

  • Nausea

If you are experiencing chronic acid reflux, your symptoms might intensify and the pain can radiate to your back and shoulders.

Chronic acid reflux symptoms and long-term effects

A more serious consequence of chronic acid reflux is esophageal cancer.

When a person experiences acid reflux for an extended length of time — five years or more— the inner lining of the esophagus becomes damaged.

This can cause squamous cells that normally line the esophagus to be replaced with columnar cells — the ones that usually line the stomach and are more resistant to stomach acid.

When this happens, a person develops a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.

These columnar cells can become abnormal over time and result in a precancerous condition called dysplasia.

If you develop high-grade dysplasia, you are more at risk of the cells becoming cancerous.

Key Point: When Should You See a Doctor About Your Symptoms?

You should see a doctor if your symptoms worsen or don’t respond to treatment. Ongoing symptoms could indicate a more serious underlying health condition.

Seek emergency medical treatment if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Chronic upper back or chest pain
  • Pain and tightness in the jaw or arm
  • Neck pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vomiting blood or black material
  • Blood in your stool
  • A chronic cough or choking feeling
  • Unintentional weight loss

If you have chronic acid reflux, you’ll need to schedule regular checkups with your doctor to monitor your condition. This can help control and decrease the risk of developing cancer.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is caused when the digestive system becomes irritated or when some stomach and esophagus muscles malfunction. Let’s take a look at common acid reflux triggers.


Acid reflux commonly occurs when eating too quickly or too much.

When you overeat, your stomach needs to stretch more and becomes bloated. This puts pressure on the LES muscle, which under normal circumstances prevents stomach acid from moving upward into the esophagus.

It can also cause the esophagus muscles to relax uncontrollably, allowing stomach acid to push up into the throat.

Key Point: What are Trigger Foods?

Trigger foods cause heartburn and indigestion, leading to acid reflux. Fatty and greasy foods are two main causes of indigestion, but some other foods that can trigger acid reflux include:

  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Onions
  • Citrus fruit
  • Garlic
  • Alcohol
  • Oil

These foods take longer to break down and prompt your stomach to produce more acid.

When you have more stomach acid than necessary, it can irritate your digestive system by causing inflammation and even other digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

Trigger foods may also put pressure on your LES muscle, adding to an irritated digestive system and increasing the risk of bile being pushed up your throat.

Prolonged stress

Studies have shown that prolonged stress can contribute to acid reflux and GERD in some people.

Stress can cause minor changes in the body that can become problematic over time. This includes:

  • Hormonal changes that make the stomach more sensitive to acidic fluctuations.

  • Reducing the body’s ability to produce prostaglandins — a group of substances that protects the stomach lining from acids.

Managing acid reflux can also be stressful and can lead to a harmful feedback loop that puts extra strain on the body.

If you are prone to frequent heartburn and stress, it’s recommended that you talk to your healthcare provider.

They will be able to suggest ways to manage your stress and prevent it from contributing to acid reflux symptoms.

Stomach ulcers

A stomach or peptic ulcer is a sore that develops in your stomach, small intestine, or esophagus.

Ulcers form when the protective mucus layers in the stomach’s lining are worn away, and the surrounding tissue is damaged. It can cause symptoms such as:

  • Heartburn

  • Indigestion

  • Abdominal pain

  • Bloating

  • Gas

If an ulcer is severe, your symptoms may intensify, and it’s recommended that you get treatment as soon as possible.

What Are The Treatment Options for Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is treatable with several at-home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. It usually doesn’t require any invasive treatment.

Tired of GERD symptoms?

Licensed doctors and nurse practitioners can help you feel better. Schedule an online appointment now.

Back Pain: Can it Be Caused by Acid Reflux?

Severe forms of acid reflux — like GERD — may cause heartburn that can contribute to back pain.

However, back pain can also be caused by a number of other factors.

In this section, we’ll take a look at factors relating to back pain that can make you more prone to developing acid reflux.

NSAIDs used to treat back pain

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to patients to relieve back pain and stiffness. These include drugs like:

  • Aspirin

  • Ibuprofen

  • Naproxen

NSAIDs are known to be acidic in nature, which is why they may cause some irritation in the stomach lining.

Some NSAIDs also disrupt prostaglandins’ production — which is essential for the mucus that protects the stomach and esophagus from bile.

When the body doesn’t produce enough prostaglandins, you are more susceptible to experiencing heartburn or acid reflux.


GERD is a severe form of acid reflux. It usually develops when acid reflux isn’t treated properly or at all.

The heartburn and indigestion caused by GERD are often so intense that severe pain can radiate to your lower back.

GERD may also cause pain between your shoulder blades.

You might experience the following symptoms in addition to those brought on by acid reflux:

  • Difficulty swallowing or speaking

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swelling

  • Inflammation

Seek professional medical advice if you suspect you have GERD. A healthcare professional will be able to give you the best treatment options.

Other causes of back pain

If you have back pain but don’t experience any acid reflux symptoms, it’s possible that something else might be causing your discomfort.

Some other factors that can contribute to back pain include:

  • Muscle strain or injury

  • Bad posture or improper sleeping position

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Certain types of cancer

If you’re worried about any other symptoms or chronic pain, make an appointment to see your doctor.

OTC medication

The most common way to treat acid reflux is with OTC medication like antacids.

These drugs work to neutralize stomach bile and decrease acidity to minimize damage to the surrounding tissue.

Your doctor may also prescribe histamine blockers that reduce the production of acids in the stomach.

This can help your stomach lining and esophagus to heal — for example, it allows the stomach time to reproduce the mucus meant to protect it from acids.

If your acid reflux persists, you may also need to take prokinetic drugs.

This medication affects the muscles of your digestive tract and can help them to relax or contract when necessary.

When these muscles work correctly, they can effectively prevent stomach acid from leaking into the digestive tract.

At-home remedies

Alongside OTC medications, you can also try a number of at-home remedies to alleviate your symptoms.

Mix baking soda and water

Baking soda is a neutralizing agent that can be used to temporarily relieve some symptoms of acid reflux.

It’s recommended that you mix half a teaspoon with four ounces of water and then drink the solution.

Although baking soda can be helpful, using it too much can cause heart problems if you exceed 37 milligrams per day.

Eat ginger

Research shows that ginger can be used as an effective home remedy for many stomach issues.

For indigestion and acid reflux, ginger helps to move food through the digestive tract to avoid bloating.

It prevents food from sitting in the stomach for too long, which may prompt excessive acid production.

It’s recommended that you only consume three to four grams of ginger per day to avoid gas and a burning throat.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes that can combat acid reflux may include avoiding certain substances or food groups that trigger symptoms.

Your healthcare provider can also recommend which foods, beverages, and habits you can introduce into your daily routine.

Follow a healthy diet

Fatty and greasy foods are known triggers of acid reflux. They can also worsen existing symptoms and contribute to the development of GERD.

To avoid this, it’s often recommended to replace saturated fats with healthier alternatives like:

  • Plant fat

  • Fish

  • Seeds and nuts

Your healthcare provider may also recommend limiting caffeine, spicy food, and citrus.

You can also try eating smaller meals to prevent bloating. When the stomach is too full, the LES muscle struggles to contract correctly; it may then allow bile to rise up into the throat.

What are Some Risk Factors of Acid Reflux?

There are certain risk factors that make you more prone to developing acid reflux. Listed below are a few of the top risk factors.

The good news is that these factors can be controlled with simple lifestyle changes.

Smoking and drinking

People who smoke or drink frequently have a higher risk of developing GERD symptoms.

Smoking reduces pressure in the LES muscle, which allows stomach acid to leak into the digestive tract.

Alcohol, on the other hand, triggers excess acid production. This causes the stomach tissue to become sensitive and prone to damage.

Obesity or being overweight

If you are overweight or obese, the excess fat around your belly puts more pressure on the abdomen.

This squeezes the stomach and can cause bile and stomach acid to travel upward more frequently.

When this happens, the lining of the esophagus can become damaged. This increases your risk of developing serious conditions like GERD and esophageal cancer.

Are You Worried About the Burning Sensation in Your Stomach?

Acid reflux is a common condition that causes a burning sensation in the digestive tract. It can be uncomfortable to live with, but it’s easily treatable.

If you are experiencing some of the symptoms we’ve covered in this article or are worried that you may have a more chronic condition, you can meet with a board-certified doctor or nurse from your smartphone, computer, or tablet. Head over to to make your first appointment.

Dr. Asunta Moduthagam

Dr. Moduthagam has been a family medicine physician since 2011. She loves working with patients to help them reach an optimal state of well-being. She’s dedicated to thoughtful, compassionate care and is committed to being her patients’ best advocate.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency.

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