Constipation is a common condition that most people experience at least once in their lifetime.
In some cases, a symptom of the condition is back pain.
In this article, we’ll take a look at why this happens, common treatment methods, and when you should see a doctor.
Symptoms of Constipation
If you’ve ever experienced an episode of constipation, you know how uncomfortable it can be.
Below are several common symptoms:
- Infrequent bowel movements (fewer than three bowel movements a week)
- Dry, hard, and/or lumpy stools
- Difficulty passing stools
- Stomach aches, cramps, or abdominal pain
- Feeling of fullness or pressure in your abdomen (bloating)
- Increased flatulence (passing gas)
Additional symptoms of constipation that are less common include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of energy
- Low back pain
In some cases, the symptoms of constipation can cause other issues.
For example, if you have difficulty passing stools and strain too hard, that could cause a hernia, which is a localized bulge or lump in the abdominal or groin area.
The pain from a hernia can be severe, and is usually worsened by lifting, bending over, or even coughing and sneezing.
You can also develop anal fissures, which are small tears or rips on the anus, from straining too hard or from passing very large and hard bowel movements. Hemorrhoids, painful or itchy swollen blood vessels in the rectal area that can bleed, are also a potential side effect.
Suffice to say, constipation is not something you want to ignore.
Even mild cases can eventually turn ugly if left untreated.
If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to try to get to the root of the underlying cause so you can pursue the best plan of treatment.
Two of the most common causes of constipation are low-fiber diets and not drinking enough water.
However, there are many other factors that can cause constipation.
Possible causes of constipation include:
- Dehydration (not drinking enough water)
- Low-fiber diet
- Lack of physical activity
- Certain medications
- Bowel obstruction
- Fecal impaction
- Spinal cord injury
- Metabolic problems, like thyroid disease
- Colon or rectal cancer
Below, we break down instances of constipation that cause back pain and why it happens.
Fecal impaction is a complication of constipation that can cause back pain.
When fecal impaction occurs, a piece of hard, dry stool becomes stuck in the colon or rectum.
This blockage causes a buildup of waste, and a person is unable to pass their stool through their colon or rectum.
This creates extreme pressure on the organs around the area—including your back.
So, what causes fecal impaction?
Usually it’s caused by long-standing, untreated cases of constipation. Over time, this can cause a significant stool buildup.
Over time, this can cause a significant stool buildup.
Common symptoms of fecal impaction include lower back pain (which can even migrate to the limbs if severe), bloating, vomiting, nausea, and headaches.
If you suspect that you’re experiencing fecal impaction, it’s very important to seek medical attention to remove the blockage.
In some cases, simply having constipation can cause back pain.
The pressure from the stool buildup can impact the lower back.
Generally, treatments for constipation aren’t as aggressive or involved as treatments for fecal impaction are.
In many cases, lifestyle changes like a high-fiber diet, over-the-counter stool softeners, increased water consumption, and regular exercise can help treat and prevent general constipation from happening.
Back pain causing constipation
Sometimes, it’s the back condition that causes constipation and not the other way around.
If you have a condition, like an infection or tumor that presses on the spinal cord, that can cause back pain. If you experience a spinal cord injury or stroke, or have a nervous system disease like multiple sclerosis, you may develop neurogenic bowel, which causes constipation.
Additional Causes of Back Pain
If you have constipation and back pain, it’s important to note that it may not be the constipation that’s causing your pain.
Instead, another non-related condition could be the underlying cause of your back pain.
Below is a list of common conditions that can cause back pain:
- Muscle strain
- Excess body weight
- Lack of movement
- Spinal cord injury
- Herniated disc
For mild cases of constipation, home remedies are usually effective.
One of the best ways to treat and prevent constipation is incorporating more high-fiber foods into your diet.
Some foods have actually gained a reputation as natural stool softeners for their high fiber content, like prunes.
If you’re experiencing constipation or susceptible to becoming constipated, try incorporating some of the foods in the table below for a high-fiber diet.
|Fruits||Prunes, apples, pears, kiwis, figs, oranges, grapefruits, plums, nectarines, strawberries, blackberries, avocados|
|Vegetables||Spinach, brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, rhubarb, sweet potatoes, green peas, beets, cabbage|
|Beans||Garbanzo beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, lima beans, lentils|
|Seeds and grains||Chia seeds, flaxseeds, oat bran, whole grain bread|
|Fermented foods||Kefir, greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh|
Another good measure for treating and preventing constipation is increased water consumption.
Extra water can help make your stool softer so it passes more easily.
Some other common treatments for quick constipation relief include over-the-counter (OTC) stool softeners, stimulant laxatives, and fiber supplements.
In cases of chronic constipation, you may want to discuss treatment plans with your doctor.
Chronic, long-standing constipation can lead to a number of issues, including urinary problems.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that involves chronic constipation.
This disorder affects the large intestine and causes symptoms like constipation, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, and gas.
Usually, health care providers will recommend a change of diet and other lifestyle changes to manage your chronic pain.
In rare cases, your doctor may prescribe medication to help prevent or treat constipation.
Though, this is usually a last resort and only prescribed after other methods like dietary changes, increased physical activity, and increased water intake don’t help produce normal bowel movements.
When to See a Doctor
It’s normal for adults to get occasional constipation.
And for cases of minor constipation, home remedies will normally alleviate mild discomfort.
However, there are serious symptoms you should be aware of that require immediate medical attention.
If you are experiencing one of the following symptoms, contact a health care professional, as you may have a medical emergency.
- Haven’t had a bowel movement in more than 7 days
- Blood in your stool or from your rectum
- Back pain that does not get better after a bowel movement
- Constant pain in your abdomen
- Inability to pass gas
- Severe pain
- Unexplained weight loss
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Symptoms & Causes of Constipation. (2018).
Does constipation cause back pain? (2021).
Symptoms of Chronic Constipation.
Fecal impaction. (2019).
Common causes of constipation. (2021).