Constipation is a bit of an awkward topic. No one really wants to talk about it and yet it is something that affects all ages and populations.
Around 16% of adults struggle with constipation and that number rises dramatically to 30% after the age of 60.
Okay, cue the jokes about prune juice and things like that, but pooping is a big problem for some people and along with the anxiety around the causes of it, it can have some serious consequences for your health.
Constipation And Back Pain
One of the most common questions around low back pain is if constipation is playing a role? When it comes to pain, and especially chronic low back pain, it can be extremely difficult to uncover the underlying cause.
Why isn’t my back pain going away? What can be causing it? Does my low back pain mean I have cancer? We go straight to the super scary symptoms and the ghastly Google diagnoses.
Unfortunately there aren’t any specific numbers as to how often constipation is the culprit in causing low back pain, but we do know that there is a significant overlap in symptoms and causes.
In this article we are going to take a look at five key concerns around constipation:
When to worry about constipation
How do I know if it is constipation or low back pain?
How can constipation cause low back pain?
How can I treat constipation and back pain?
Common Causes Of Constipation (Lifestyle)
There are a number of factors that can cause you to be constipated including how much you exercise, what you eat, and how stressed you are. Some of the key causes of constipation include:
Low levels of physical activity
Hormonal changes/ pregnancy
Lack of fiber in your diet
Ignoring the need to have a bowel movement
Travel/ change in routine
When To Worry About Constipation
There are also certain underlying health conditions that can contribute to lower back pain and constipation. If you are experiencing chronic constipation along with abdominal pain it might be a good idea to make an appointment with your healthcare provider to rule out any of the following medical conditions:
How Do I Know If It Is Constipation Or Low Back Pain?
Your small intestines are the place where the nutrients from digested food get absorbed. They are only 1 inch in diameter but they are about 10 feet long! Because of this they are squashed into a small part of our body and sometimes we can feel pain symptoms in both the front and back of our bodies.
This is why you may experience back pain when you are constipated. Typically, the type of pain that occurs is a dull, achy pain which can be an indication that things might be getting clogged up in your colon.
How Can Constipation Cause Low Back Pain
When it comes to back pain and constipation, there are a few conditions that have low back pain as a primary symptom:
This is a serious condition that happens when your stool can’t pass through your colon or rectum, placing intense pressure on the organs surrounding this area. Symptoms can slowly start to appear slowly, or they may come on more suddenly.
Generally symptoms that go along with this condition include nausea, vomiting, bloating, incontinence, and headaches. These symptoms will often get increasingly worse until the blockage is treated and cleared.
While the treatments for fecal impactions typically include things like enemas, laxatives and anal suppositories, it is not advisable to try and treat this yourself. You should consult with your healthcare provider, especially if your pain has started to move to other areas of your body, such as your lower limbs.
2. Lower Back Pain And Cancer
There are certain types of cancer, such as colon and rectal cancer, that can cause low back pain . It is important to know that when it comes to causes of back pain, cancer is not a very common culprit. Typically colon and rectal cancer come along with other symptoms like bloody stools and unexplained weight loss.
Tumors may also be present in the body and these can press on the nerves located in the lower back. Swollen lymph nodes that feel like tumor lumps can also sometimes be felt. These are the signs of more advanced cancer.
3. Spinal Injuries
Spinal injuries, such as pelvic injuries or slipped discs, can pinch the nerves around your spinal cord, causing significant low back pain. If these injuries go unnoticed the back pain can become more intermittent and feel more like bouts of constipation.
Regular health checks can help to catch these injuries and conditions in the early stages, leading to better recovery and fewer complications.
How Can I Treat Constipation?
If you find that you are experiencing frequent episodes of constipation and concurrent back pain then it might be time to try some dietary or lifestyle changes.
Over the counter pain medications, along with heating pads, can be an effective way to soothe constipation-related back pain.
Lifestyle Changes To Help Relieve Constipation
1. Add fiber
Regular exercise helps constipation by lowering the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. This limits the amount of water your body absorbs from the stool. Hard, dry stools are harder to pass.
Dehydration can increase constipation as less water is absorbed by the food, creating hard stools that can be challenging to pass.
4. Stick to a schedule.
Going to the bathroom at the same time each day can signal to your body that it is time for a bowel movement. This can help to improve the regularity of your bowel movements.
5. Avoid highly processed foods.
When To See A Doctor For Your Constipation
If your symptoms continue to get worse, or if they persist even once your constipation has cleared up, you should definitely make an appointment with your healthcare provider for a thorough check up.
If you have any of the following red flags, at any time, you should make an immediate appointment with your doctor to do a thorough evaluation.
Red Flags For Constipation
Blood in your stool
Sharp pain in your abdomen
Sharp pain in your back
These are urgent signs that should not be ignored and can indicate something serious that is going on with your health.
Constipation is something that can happen to all of us at some point, especially if our diet is not as good as it could be or if we are traveling or stressed.
There are simple changes that we can make to our diets to help reduce the chances of constipation happening. Make sure you drink more water when flying, try to limit refined and processed foods and continue to exercise.
If you have successfully implemented these changes and you are having regular bowel movements but your low back pain persists, then it is a good idea to see your healthcare provider to talk about your concerns in more detail.
Also, if you have any red flags that are happening to your body, along with low back pain, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Remember, certain pain medications like opioids can actually cause constipation as well, so it might be an idea to switch medications. You should always talk to your doctor about medication changes first, though.
While most cases of acute low back pain will resolve on their own, and most cases of constipation can be cleared up with dietary and lifestyle modifications, there are definitely more concerning cases that should be discussed with a specialist.
Remember, prevention is always better than treatment and catching something early often means much better outcomes.