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. Cue the jokes about prune juice and things like that, but pooping is a big problem for some people and it can have serious consequences for your health, as well as causing a lot of anxiety around what can be causing it.
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 some of the common causes of constipation and see how they relate to chronic lower back pain, what their symptoms are, and how you can try and treat them.
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
High levels of stress
Lack of fiber in your diet
Ignoring the need to have a bowel movement
Travel/ change in routine
There are also certain underlying health conditions that can contribute to 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.
Constipation Causes Of Low Back Pain
When it comes to constipation and low back pain, there are a few conditions that have low back pain as a 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 start appearing slowly, or they may happen 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. Masses Around Your Back
There are certain types of cancer, such as colon and rectal cancer, that often cause low back pain. Typically these cancers bring with them other symptoms, like bloody stools and unexplained weight loss. Tumors may be present 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.
Treatment For 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. Laxatives and suppositories can help provide short-term relief, but excessive use can actually make the situation worse and lead to more constipation. 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
Foods and vegetables that are high in fiber include green peas, broccoli, whole grain breads, and flaxseed. These help your stool move through your intestines.
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.
These foods are low in nutrients and fiber and can often take longer to pass through your body, as well as absorbing less water.
When To See A Doctor
If your symptoms continue to get worse, or if they persist even once your constipation is gone, 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 and 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. 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.