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Can Acid Reflux Cause Back Pain? Causes & Treatments

You may not recognize the term acid reflux, but we are confident that everyone knows the feeling of acid reflux. You know that feeling of eating deliciously unhealthy food and devouring every bite so quickly there is no time to drink water, only to feel so uncomfortable afterwards you are not even sure where the discomfort is from?

That’s probably acid reflux. Today, we're going to look at if acid reflux could be the cause of your back pain. We'll look at what acid reflux is, symptoms, and its relationship with your upper body area. Let's get started! 

What is Acid Reflux? (GERD)

GERD, short for Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease, is one of the most widespread gastrointestinal problems. Acid reflux occurs when acid from your stomach flows back up (refluxes) into your esophagus, which is the tube that connects the stomach and throat.  


GERD is considered a more chronically persistent form of acid reflux, as GERD is known to occur more consistently, around 2-3 times per week. On the other hand, general acid reflux occurs more sporadically. 


Even if you have the occasional acid reflux, that does not indicate you will progress towards GERD, but it is important to note the symptom frequency and severity in order to determine whether you are more likely to have GERD or general acid reflux. 

Symptoms

Have you ever had that burning feeling in your upper chest that seemingly arises from nowhere? If you assume that is heartburn, you’re probably right. Heartburn is the most obvious symptom of acid reflux, as the manifestation of stomach contents coming back up in your esophagus creates irritation in the chest area around your sternum (breastbone). Besides heartburn, there are other symptoms to look out for, including

  • Regurgitation: When undigested food and stomach acid move back up from the stomach to the esophagus, you may burp and experience a sour taste in your mouth (and get a little taste of whatever you ate most recently).
  • Dysphagia: Dysphagia is when you have difficulty swallowing. GERD can cause damage to the esophageal tissue, which can cause food to take longer to move from the esophagus to the stomach, so it can feel like food is stuck in the esophagus and making it difficult to swallow.
  • Coughing and/or sore throat: The irritation from the stomach acid can manifest itself as coughing and sore throat, as the acid reflux can inflame the larynx or vocal cords.

Causes

There are a few common causes of acid reflux that may make you more vulnerable to incidents of acid reflux, as well as more severe symptoms. 

  1. Obesity: While heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux  can happen to anyone, research shows that acid reflux can be more common in those who are overweight or obese. Since those who are overweight or obese can have excess weight around their abdominal area, this puts additional tension on your stomach, forcing acids to work their way into the esophagus to ease pressure on the stomach. 
  2. Diet:  There are several food and beverage choices that can directly cause acid reflux due to higher acidity levels and take a longer time to digest. It may be impractical to avoid these foods altogether, but it is best to monitor and enjoy in moderation. 
    1. Fried foods (Chips, french fries, donuts)
    2. Spicy foods (garlic, cayenne)
    3. Caffeine (coffee)
    4. Alcohol
    5. Soda 

Does Acid Reflux Cause Back Pain? 

Acid reflux can cause back pain, since in many circumstances the pain you feel in your back is referred pain. Referred pain is when the pain stems from one part of the body and radiates onto another. In other words, the back pain does not come from the back. 


Another example of referred pain is the relationship between constipation and back pain. The back pain you feel isn’t from your back itself, but from the infrequent bowel movements. 

What Causes the Back Pain

The cause of back pain from acid reflux normally stems from the burning sensation (heartburn) that you feel. This burning sensation can not only vary in intensity, but it can also vary in location, producing pain and discomfort in your chest, abdominals, or upper back. 


Even if your pain in the upper back is not a direct result of the heartburn, it can be an indirect symptom also. If dealing with an intense burning sensation in one area, such as the sternum/chest, this can cause you to tense your muscles, stiffen your spine, and restrict upper body movement, to counteract the pain in the chest. 


And when your body is tensed up, back pain can be a common byproduct.

How to Treat Back Pain Caused By Acid Reflux (GERD)

There are 4 main steps to help treat back pain caused by acid reflux or GERD. While each of these steps can be effective on their own, it is ideal to utilize all of them together to generate the best results. After all, your health should be your #1 concern. 

Stay Hydrated

Hydration is an essential factor in helping treat back pain caused by acid reflux. Water is crucial in lubricating organs and eliminating toxins, and during incidents of acid reflux, can help flush out the acid. 


Other beverages, such as ginger tea, have no caffeine to aggravate acid reflux symptoms and have natural anti-inflammatory properties to help  soothe the stomach by reducing acid production. 


Water, ginger tea, and other hydrating beverages (such as coconut water) are excellent choices due to their high ph levels, which can help counteract the acidity found in certain foods and beverages, leaving you more balanced and pain-free.

Start Doing Yoga or Stretch Consistently

Yoga and stretching are a fantastic opportunity to treat back pain caused by acid reflux. Techniques in yoga to relax both the body and mind can be beneficial in directly relieving back pain by improving mobility, as well as calming the esophagus muscles that keep stomach acid down. 


Yoga is also a great exercise tool, and since regular exercise can help prevent obesity and being overweight, you can be less prone to acid reflux. If unable to perform many yoga poses due to balance issues, start with consistent stretching and breathing techniques, as increasing blood flow and reducing stress are also valuable components to achieve a healthier body. 

Eat Smaller Meals

If dealing with acid reflux, try eating smaller meals more often throughout the day, instead of three large meals. Eating too much at one sitting can overwhelm your digestive system, causing symptoms of reflux. 


This does not necessarily entail eating less calories in total, only spreading them out to give your digestive system time to perform its bodily functions without being overburdened.

Consult Your Doctor for Medication

Consulting your doctor can be a good option for those that suffer from GERD and more frequent occurrences of acid reflux, or if you experience intolerable symptoms. After undergoing a diagnostic exam, the doctor may decide that over-the-counter medication in the form of NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may be helpful to offset the back pain, or prescription-based medication intended to help eliminate excess stomach acid may be a good alternative. 

Other Common Causes of Back Pain

Sometimes, it might not be acid reflux causing your back pain, even if you’re experiencing it. Referred back pain can come from a variety of other factors. Some other common causes of back pain are:


If you feel back pain when you cough or sneeze, then one of the causes above might be the culprit. 

Final Thoughts

Acid reflux can cause back pain since it mainly affects the upper body area. The burning sensation from GERD can cause your back to tense up, which produces the pain that you feel. Luckily, you don’t have to live with this.


Simply by staying hydrated, eating smaller meals, or stretching throughout the day, you can keep back pain from acid reflux on hold forever.