Gas in your digestive system is relatively normal and usually released through belching or flatulence. But when excess gas can't escape, it gets trapped. As a result, gas can cause back pain and other uncomfortable symptoms.
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Here's a look at what causes trapped gas, how to relieve gas pain in your back and what other conditions can cause back pain.
Gas can cause back pain when it gets trapped in your intestines during digestion, when you swallow too much air or if you have a chronic digestive condition. But keep in mind that other issues can cause back pain, too, such as gallstones or ulcers.
What Causes Gas to Get Trapped?
Gas has both external and internal causes, according to Neil Gupta, MD, an associate professor of gastroenterology and regional director of digestive health at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Illinois.
And when that gas gets stuck in your intestines, pain can ensue. "Trapped gas can cause cramping or bloating anywhere along your digestive system," he says. "Gas pain can be felt in your upper back when [it] is trapped in a part of your colon in the back of your abdomen called the retroperitoneum."
1. Swallowing Air
The main culprit for gassy back pain? Swallowing too much air, Dr. Gupta says.
Swallowed air is the primary cause of increased gas in your stomach, per the Mayo Clinic. It can result from a variety of factors, like drinking or eating too fast, using a straw or drinking carbonated beverages like beer or soda. Chewing gum, taking fiber supplements or eating food and drinks that contain artificial sweeteners can also contribute to the problem.
2. Gas Released During Digestion
Gas in your colon forms when bacteria ferment undigested carbs like fiber and some starches and sugars, per the Mayo Clinic. Higher-fiber foods like beans or whole grains tend to lead to more gas, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
While bacteria consume some of that gas, the remainder is released in flatulence, something that normally occurs 14 to 23 times a day, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
3. Certain Chronic Conditions
Trapped gas typically occurs due to the above reasons, according to the Cleveland Clinic. But if your gas pain is constant, excessive or accompanied by other digestive problems, then a medical condition may be to blame, per the Mayo Clinic.
"Any condition that causes your digestive system to slow down increases the risk for trapped gas," Dr. Gupta says. "These include common conditions like chronic constipation and diabetes."
Trapped gas can also cause back pain when you have chronic intestinal diseases like diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, food intolerances like lactose- or gluten-intolerance, small bowel bacterial overgrowth and constipation, per the Mayo Clinic.
If too much gas gets trapped at bends in your colon (called flexures), you may develop a disorder known as splenic-flexure syndrome, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. This severe gas buildup can cause pressure, pain and bloating, according to June 2020 research in Intestinal Research.
If your gas pain is accompanied by other symptoms like weight loss, diarrhea or bloody stool, check in with your doctor to see if a medical condition may be to blame.
4 Other Conditions That Cause Back Pain
"Although gas is a common cause of back pain, there are other more serious causes that need to be considered when you have belly pain that is felt in your back," Dr. Gupta says.
1. Acute Pancreatitis
Acute pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas — a long gland in your upper abdomen situated behind your stomach — that may be contributing to your backaches, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms may include:
- Pain in your upper abdomen that radiates to your back
- Pain that worsens after eating
- Tenderness in your belly
- Rapid pulse
The Mayo Clinic defines gallstones as digestive fluid, called bile, that thickens into hardened deposits in your gallbladder duct. While gallstones can be asymptomatic, they can sometimes create a blockage that results in the following symptoms:
- Rapidly increasing pain in your upper right or central abdomen
- Pain between your shoulder blades or in your right shoulder
Ulcers may also be to blame for back pain. A duodenal ulcer is an ulcer that forms in the first part of your small intestine, according to Dr. Gupta. He says it can lead to:
- Burning pain between your sternum and belly button
- Back pain
4. Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are another potential cause of both stomach and back pain, per the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include:
- Severe fluctuating pain on your side and back (below your ribs)
- Pain that fans out to your abdomen and groin
- Painful urination
- A strong need to pass urine more often or urinating in smaller amounts
- Blood-tinged, cloudy or putrid urine
How to Relieve Gas Pain in Your Back
While getting rid of gas-induced back pain once and for all may require managing a chronic condition, there are some measures you can take to ease aches in the short term.
1. Try Gas-Reducing Medicine or Pain Relievers
Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines like antacids can help ease your gas symptoms, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Other non-prescription enzyme supplements — like Lactaid or Beano — can help prevent discomfort from lactose intolerance or trouble digesting sugars, respectively.
If you're already experiencing back pain from gas, OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen can help take the edge off, according to the Mayo Clinic. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the label when you take these or any other medicines.
2. Use a Heating Pad
Applying heat to your back may also help ease backaches, according to the Mayo Clinic. University of Michigan Health recommends heating your back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time with the help of a heating pad or hot shower.
Though it may sound counterintuitive to hit the gym when your back hurts, exercise can help support digestion and release gas trapped in your digestive tract, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Sticking to a regular exercise routine can also help prevent future gas buildup.
4. Limit Foods and Drinks That Give You Gas
Moderating foods and drinks that make you gassy can also help stave off back pain. Per the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic, some common culprits include:
- High-fiber foods like beans, fruits and whole grains
- Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and asparagus
- Fermented foods like kombucha or kimchi
- Dairy products if you're lactose intolerant
- Sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners
- Carbonated drinks
Is This an Emergency?
- Mayo Clinic: “Gas and Gas Pains”
- Neil Gupta, MD, associate professor of gastroenterology, regional director, digestive health, Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Illinois
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Gas in the Digestive Tract"
- Mayo Clinic: “Pancreatitis”
- Mayo Clinic: “Gallstones”
- Mayo Clinic: “Kidney Stones”
- Cleveland Clinic: "Are You Passing Too Much Gas? 6 Tips for Relieving Flatulence"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Gas"
- Mayo Clinic: "Back pain"
- University of Michigan Health: "Use Heat or Ice to Relieve Low Back Pain"
- Intestinal Research: "Bloating in a supine position"