Anyone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) deals with stomach pain and abdominal discomfort as a part of life. But what about back pain?
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About 80 percent of people experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, the Mayo Clinic reports. Low back pain, according to the National Institutes of Health, is often due to normal wear and tear and mechanical causes as people age.
Still, underlying health issues in other parts of the body can cause or predispose people to low back pain, including such conditions as osteoarthritis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia and — yes — gastrointestinal problems. And because back pain is so widespread, it can be tough to determine the root cause.
Pecos, New Mexico-based Tieraona Low Dog, MD, who specializes in integrative medicine, believes there's a clear explanation for why you might have an aching back during episodes of gastric distress. Though different organs and body systems perform different roles in your daily life, your network of nerves and muscles is deeply interconnected, she says.
"Abdominal pain can be experienced as lower back pain due to a shared network of nerve fibers, called referred pain," says Dr. Low Dog. Referred pain to the back, she adds, is common during kidney infections and in conjunction with menstrual cramps.
It's well known that IBS and other gastric issues can wreak havoc in your gut. "IBS can manifest in different ways," says Chicago-based dietitian/nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, who consults for Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Specialists for Women. "Gas, bloating and abdominal pain … may cause lower back pain if your torso and hips are out of alignment or there's chronic constipation."
Read more: 5 Home Remedies That Can Help Ease IBS Symptoms
Relieving Stomach and Back Pain
Understanding the link between your gastric issues and back pain is the first step to relief. If you think your lower back pain may be due to IBS or excess gas rather than an injury or spinal issue, seek remedies or treatments that target both symptoms — back pain and stomach cramps — simultaneously.
"To relieve the lower back stress," says Shanta Retelny, "you can stretch your back muscles during the day by getting up and moving more, getting a standing desk or eliminating certain foods that are irritating your bowel."
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health also offers a variety of solutions for both IBS pain and lower back pain. Promising approaches for IBS relief include hypnotherapy, herbal medicine, peppermint oil, probiotics and acupuncture, while exercise, spinal manipulation, acupuncture, massage and yoga are recommended as effective treatments for lower back pain.
Both Shanta Retelny and Dr. Low Dog emphasize the importance of lifestyle changes in relieving IBS (and referred back pain from IBS), both recommending nutritional strategies for people with IBS. Says Shanta Retelny: "See a registered dietitian or nutritionist who specializes in gastrointestinal health for a diet low in fermentable carbohydrates for a short-term elimination plan."
For many patients with IBS, Dr. Low Dog also recommends what's called a 30-day low-FODMAP diet, which limits fermentable carbs. "We know this diet is incredibly helpful for those with IBS and those with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)," she says. "I cannot tell you how many patients find their symptoms improve dramatically within seven to 10 days."
She recommends that those who find relief through the low-FODMAP diet discuss this diet with their doctor or dietitian as a long-term option. Ultimately, if you struggle daily with gas and back pain, it's best to bring these concerns to your doctor, who can help determine the best treatment plan for you.
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: “Complementary Health Approaches for Chronic Pain: What the Science Says”
- Mayo Clinic: “Infographic: Back Pain”
- National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “Low Back Pain Fact Sheet”
- Tieraona Low Dog, MD, integrative medicine specialist and author, Pecos, New Mexico
- Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, registered dietitian/nutritionist, consultant for Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern Specialists for Women, Chicago