What’s the Link Between Lower Back Pain and IBS?

What’s the Link Between Lower Back Pain and IBS?

Back pain is one of the most common complaints people have, regardless of what other conditions they might also have. The Mayo Clinic estimates that approximately 80% of Americans will experience back pain in their lives at least once.1,2

Abdominal pain is a common symptom experienced by those living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but the link between low back pain and IBS isn’t as clearly defined.

Common causes of back pain

Acute back pain comes on suddenly and typically lasts less than six weeks, while chronic back pain is defined as lasting more than three months. (Chronic back pain is less common than acute back pain.) Common causes of back pain include strains to the muscles or ligaments, bulging or ruptured discs (between the vertebrae in the spine), arthritis, skeletal irregularities like scoliosis, or osteoporosis.2

Symptoms of back pain

Back pain may cause muscle aches, shooting or stabbing pains, pain that radiates down the leg, or stiffness and limited range of motion. Rarely, back pain can signal a serious condition, and immediate medical attention should be sought for back pain that is accompanied by a fever, follows a fall or injury, or back pain that causes a new bowel or bladder problem. (For those with IBS, a new bowel problem with back pain would be different than their usual symptoms. If you are unsure whether your bowel problem is related to your back pain, consult your doctor.) Additional symptoms that warrant medical attention are back pain that is severe and doesn’t ease with rest, pain that spreads down the legs (especially below the knee), pain that causes weakness, numbness or tingling, and pain that is occurs with unexplained weight loss.2

Back pain and IBS

While few studies have looked at the prevalence of back pain in people with IBS, it is possible for the abdominal pain of IBS to refer to the back. Referred pain occurs when the perception of where pain is felt is distant from the actual cause of pain. One example of this is when people experience jaw pain during a heart attack – the jaw and teeth aren’t the cause of the pain, but the heart attack refers pain to the jaw. The internal organs can often refer pain to other sites, so it is possible for pain caused by IBS to be referred to the back.3

One Australian study that evaluated whether there is an increased risk of back pain in women with respiratory disorders, incontinence, or gastrointestinal symptoms found that the presence of these conditions was associated with the development of back pain. The study authors noted that people with gastrointestinal symptoms may have viscerosomatic hyperalgesia, an increased sensitivity to pain in the abdomen which is believed to be the result of alterations in the brain-gut pathway.4,5

There is also a link between IBS and fibromyalgia, which causes widespread pain in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. While fibromyalgia pain can occur throughout the body, the back can be affected by pain.6

Treatment for back pain and IBS

While there isn’t a specific or single treatment for back pain and IBS, many of the treatments that can ease IBS symptoms may also ease back pain, particularly if the back pain is due to abdominal bloating, cramping, diarrhea, or constipation. In addition, many of the complementary treatments, like acupuncture or mind-body techniques, can be helpful to ease symptoms of both back pain and IBS. If you’re experiencing back pain, make sure to tell your doctor about it as well as all your symptoms and ask what treatment options are best for your individual situation.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. Back pain, Medical News Today. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/172943.php. Accessed on 9/27/17.
  2. Back pain, Mayo Clinic. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/basics/definition/con-20020797. Accessed on 9/27/17.
  3. Murray GM, ed. Referred pain. Journal of Applied Oral Science. 2009;17(6):i. doi:10.1590/S1678-77572009000600001.
  4. Smith, Michelle D. et al. Do Incontinence, Breathing Difficulties, and Gastrointestinal Symptoms Increase the Risk of Future Back Pain? The Journal of Pain. 2009;10(8):876-886.
  5. Sikandar S, Dickenson AH. Visceral Pain – the Ins and Outs, the Ups and Downs. Current opinion in supportive and palliative care. 2012;6(1):17-26. doi:10.1097/SPC.0b013e32834f6ec9.
  6. Fibromyalgia and IBS, GI Society. Available at https://www.badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/fibromyalgia-and-ibs/. Accessed on 9/27/17.


View Comments (7)
  • Eyebye
    3 months ago

    As an IBS sufferer for 40 years I know what it’s like to have a very restricted diet and taking antispasmodic pills just in order to get through the day. 5 weeks ago after having my gallbladder removed it is taking me a longer time to regroup and my IBS seems to be in a constant state of Chaos. I don’t know what the link is between having the surgery and my IBS but I do know that the cramping and diet limitations that I’ve been experiencing since the surgery has either exaggerated my IBS or has put me in a state of spasms which I have never ever experienced. If anyone has any insight as to maybe how long this would take my IBS to calm down after the surgery, or any type of holistic medicines rather than Pharmaceuticals, and diets that has helped, your input is is truly appreciated. I hide how I feel a lot and my quality of life is affected again any comments inputs and feedback at this time is appreciated. So glad to be a part of this community and hope maybe I can help someone who will be able to help me.

  • daisy737
    5 months ago

    Do you have any special diet for IBS?

  • Chris Hall moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi, @daisy737 – We have a great article that talks about the low-FODMAP diet here: https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/ibs-diet/. Hope this helps! – Chris, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team

  • mphollins
    7 months ago

    I suffer from serious back pain. Doctors said that I had a pinched nerve and was sitting too long at the desk. When I came down with the flue, my doctor Rx one week of antiviral medications. The back pain disappeared. I told her that I believe the back pain was caused by an infection. She ignored me. Last week another doctor Rx me antibiotics for a skin condition. The same thing happened, the back pain is going away. Maybe IBS is coming from bacteria in the spine that causes inflammation and back pain. Has anyone else seen a disease in pain when taking antibiotics?

  • AmericanDad
    8 months ago

    Having been both living with gut issues my entire life and also having background in medicine I am always surprised when the correlation between back pain/issues and gut conditions are not considered early on in diagnosis and treatment of IBS. I fully understand to rule out the more life threatening conditions that may be underlying causes of GI related issues but sometimes I feel like bringing the nerve/spinal map with me when I go to doctors appointments. For those of you that are curious, and very likely spend a lot of time on Google looking at your symptoms, search (nerves in the back and what they affect). What you’ll find here is that if you have Lumbar and Sacral Spine you have nerves that run directly from your spine to your intestine, bladder, rectum etc. In fact, one of the identified issues associated is irritable bowel. If you have a back injury, degeneration of this area of the spine, or sit all day at your job, consider bringing up the back pain/nerve connection/IBS connection. Personally, the more I focus on a stronger lower back the better my bowel issues. Conversely, ever noticed that when you get moving physically suddenly you have to go number 2 with a real sense of urgency?

  • mphollins
    7 months ago

    Yes, I have this problem of urgency with exercise also. The urgency causes problems at the gym. Starting aqua aerobics and I never can finish the full class always running to the toilet.

  • Chris Hall moderator
    8 months ago

    This is great insight, @americandad! We’ve heard a lot of feedback from other community members about back pain and IBS here: https://irritablebowelsyndrome.net/living/new-ibs-symptom-back-pain/. What types of things do you find helpful in helpful in easing your lower back pain? – Chris, IrritableBowelSyndrome.net Team Member

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