Can Constipation Cause Back Pain?


digestive track graphic on a woman's body is shown as she leans over in pain.
Summary
  • Constipation is a common condition that affects many people across the U.S.

  • Constipation may be the cause of lower back pain in certain individuals.

  • Individuals can self-diagnose and treat constipation at home, but in severe cases they may require a doctor’s visit and prescription medication or even surgery.

  • Chronic constipation may have serious consequences, but there are simple ways to prevent constipation.

According to data obtained from the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), constipation is one of the most widespread gastrointestinal issues in the U.S., with at least 2.5 million patients visiting the doctor each year for treatment.

Constipation may be self-diagnosed; there are several treatment options available, ranging from over-the-counter medicines and dietary changes, to bowel training and increased physical activity.

In this article we’ll cover constipation, its symptoms, causes and treatments, whether it can result in back pain, and what to do if this happens.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is characterized by irregular, often painful bowel movements. Individuals who are constipated typically experience three or fewer bowel movements per week.

It is, however, also possible to be constipated even if you have a bowel movement each day. For example, if someone usually has two or three bowel movements per day, then suddenly this is reduced to one, they may be constipated.

Bowel movements vary from one person to another, so any changes to your bowel pattern should be noted and addressed.

A man holds his head and clutches his stomach, grimacing.

What are the Symptoms?

You may be able to diagnose constipation without consulting a healthcare provider, as the signs are usually easy to recognize.

Here are some common symptoms of constipation:

  • Irregular or infrequent bowel movements

  • Three or fewer stools per week

  • Stools that are hard, lumpy, compact, or dry

  • Excessive straining when passing a stool

  • An inability to completely empty the bowels (i.e. the feeling of needing to use the bathroom again shortly after having had a bowel movement)

  • A feeling of a blockage or bowel obstruction

  • Frequent indigestion and flatulence

  • Bloating, cramps, or abdominal pain

  • Pain when passing a stool

  • Needing assistance to empty the bowels, such as applying pressure to the abdomen or using the fingers to perform a manual stool evacuation

  • A feeling of general discomfort

Some other symptoms of constipation include:

  • Lower back pain

  • Appetite loss or nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Blood in the stool

  • Hemorrhoids (piles)

  • Fatigue

  • Underwear stained with feces

If your constipation persists for more than a week, you notice blood in your stool, or experience severe pain, fever, or vomiting, be sure to seek medical attention.

A woman leans over a toilet, about to vomit.

What are the Causes of Constipation?

Constipation may be caused by one or more of the following factors:

  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can make it difficult to pass a stool.

  • A low-fiber diet: A diet lacking fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and nuts, can cause constipation.

  • Not enough exercise: Movement or exercise helps food to pass through the digestive tract by increasing blood flow and providing mechanical assistance with passing a stool.

  • Stress: During periods of stress, blood is diverted away from the intestines and toward the vital organs, slowing down digestion.

  • Changes in routine: When your daily schedule changes, you may become constipated; especially if you have a bowel movement around the same time each day.

  • Dietary changes: Any drastic changes to your diet can affect your digestive system.

  • Injuries: Any injury that makes it difficult to go to the bathroom may cause constipation; this is especially true of spinal cord injuries.

  • Ignoring the urge: Resisting the urge to pass a bowel movement can result in constipation.

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): As a disorder that affects the large intestine, IBS may cause constipation.

  • Specific medications or medical conditions.

  • A bowel obstruction.

Does Constipation Cause Back Pain?

Because your intestines are in close proximity to your spinal cord, when they become swollen with fecal matter when constipated, it’s possible to develop lower back pain.

Any muscle strain experienced while trying to pass stool can also contribute to back pain.

A man holds his back in pain, with a graphic of red radiating from the area.
Key Point: Can Back Pain Cause Constipation?

Back pain or a spinal cord injury can make it difficult to move around and to use the bathroom when nature calls. If the nerves that control the colon have been affected, this can hamper your ability to have normal bowel movements.

How Do I Know if My Back Pain is Caused by Constipation?

Back pain can be caused by multiple factors, including constipation. The discomfort from back pain caused by constipation is typically recognized as a dull ache in the back which is often accompanied by pain or pressure in the abdomen.

Chronic constipation and constipation caused by fecal impaction can both result in back pain. If you’re experiencing lower back pain and suspect constipation may be the cause, always consult a doctor to rule out other underlying conditions.

Upper back pain may also be caused by constipation, but this is rare.

Key Point: What Is Fecal Impaction?

Fecal impaction occurs when a large, dry stool causes a blockage in your rectum and prevents a bowel movement.

Here are some symptoms of fecal impaction:

  • Less than three bowel movements a week
  • Pain or difficulty passing dry stools
  • Hard or lumpy stools
  • An aching pain or extreme pressure in the back or the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Streaks or stains on your underwear (fecal incontinence)

Which Other Conditions May Cause Back Pain?

Here are some of the risk factors and conditions that could result in back pain:

  • Advanced age: The older you get, the higher your chances of developing back problems.

  • Poor posture or lifestyle: Incorrect posture and a lifestyle or occupation where your muscles are under constant strain can lead to back pain.

  • Conditions or diseases: Some examples include scoliosis, osteoarthritis, and cancer.

  • Poor general health: Smoking, drinking, and sitting for long periods of time may cause back pain.

  • Extra weight: Excess weight and obesity contribute to chronic pain in the back.

  • Depression or anxiety: Mental health issues can cause sleep disturbances which may result in back pain.

A woman holds her neck in pain

How Do I Treat My Constipation and Back Pain?

If constipation is the reason for your back pain, you’ll need to treat the constipation first. This may mean getting treatment for the underlying cause of your constipation, for example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Here are some common treatments for constipation:

  • Including more fiber in your diet and increasing your daily water intake.

  • Training your bowel to pass a stool at the same time each day.

  • Finding alternatives to certain medicines and supplements that cause constipation.

  • Using over-the-counter treatments, such as fiber supplements, osmotic agents, stool softeners, and bowel stimulants.

  • Visiting your doctor and getting a prescription for constipation medication, such as lubiprostone, linaclotide, prucalopride, and more.

  • Using biofeedback therapy to help regain control of your bowel movements.

  • Exercising regularly.

  • Getting treatment for fecal impaction so you can pass a stool again.

Undergoing surgery to treat constipation.

A hand holds a few pills of fiber supplements.

What are the Complications of Chronic Constipation?

Constipation is considered chronic if it persists for several weeks or months.

Here are some complications of chronic constipation:

  • Hemorrhoids: Swollen veins around the anus due to straining.

  • Anal fissures: Tiny tears around the anus.

  • Rectal prolapse: Part of the rectum protrudes from the anus.

  • Chronic lower back pain: Untreated constipation can cause persistent back pain.

  • Fecal impaction: Stool buildup may occur in people with chronic constipation.

  • Increased cancer risk: Those with chronic constipation may have an increased risk of cancer, especially colon cancer.

What Can I Do to Prevent Constipation?

Though constipation is a common ailment, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure you experience healthy bowel movements.

Here are some ways to prevent constipation:

  • Eating a high-fiber diet that includes plenty of liquids.

  • Cutting down on processed foods.

  • Prioritizing stress management.

  • Not ignoring a bowel movement urge.

  • Getting regular exercise.

  • Using a poop stool to ensure complete emptying of the bowel with minimal straining. This puts your body into a squatting position, which can help your bowel movement happen more easily.

  • Cultivating good bowel habits, such as passing stool around the same time each day.

An array of healthy, fiber-rich foods.

When Should I See a Doctor?

If you experience serious symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, severe pain, or bleeding, you should seek medical attention immediately.

You should speak to your doctor if natural remedies, bowel training, or light exercise have not alleviated your constipation.

If your constipation is caused by stool buildup or an underlying cause that requires a doctor’s diagnosis, you’ll need to make an appointment. When in doubt, always get a medical professional’s opinion.

Where Can I Learn More about Constipation and Back Pain?

If you’re suffering from constipation and suspect it’s the cause of your back pain, you can make a telehealth appointment at LifeMD today. LifeMD is your direct connection to board-certified doctors and nurse practitioners from the comfort of your home (or anywhere). No insurance needed.

Dr. Jean-Phillip Okhovat

Dr. Okhovat completed medical school at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and an MPH in Quantitative Methods at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He completed his internal medicine training at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

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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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