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Constipation and Back Pain

Are they connected? Which came First?

Could they be Two Separate Problems?

Constipation and back pain are two common maladies, which are often related. Learning to manage these painful and often embarrassing symptoms begins with considering the causes, treatment and prevention of each condition, and understanding how they interact.

While it is possible to have constipation and back pain that is unrelated, it is more common to have back pain causing constipation, or constipation and gas causing back pain.

"hard, painful bowel movements"

Normal bowel habits vary from one person to the next. Doctors generally consider less than three bowel movements per week to be constipation, but even this can be normal in some people.

More commonly, constipation is defined as hard, painful bowel movements, that require much straining and effort. There are many possible causes of constipation, including pregnancy, low fiber diet, kidney stones and abuse of laxatives.

Diseases in other parts of the body, such as hormonal disorders, may also affect the colon causing constipation.

"avoid having a bowel movement"

Any of these possible causes of constipation and gas, can cause back pain when an enlarged painful colon, causes pain that radiates to the back, or presses on sensitive nerves around the spine. This can be similar to the pain that women often experience during pregnancy when the fetus presses against the spine.

Many of the possible causes of back pain can lead to constipation, because people avoid having a bowel movement. This occurs because of the increased back pain that can occur when you strain to move your bowels.

When you have conditions of your spine causing an acute flare-up of back pain, just sitting on the toilet, can make your back hurt. Or, in some situations, pushing to empty your bowels will make your pain worse. Avoiding or postponing a bowel movement because of pain will often lead to more constipation and back pain.

"should not require a huge straining, grunting, painful effort"

When you have constipation and back pain, the first line of defense is to do everything you can to have easy bowel movements. Normal bowel movements should not require a huge straining, grunting, painful effort. Normal bowel movements should be large, bulky, and float in the toilet bowl.

Treatment options for constipation include laxatives, enemas, suppositories, and surgery. But the initial treatment should be a high fiber diet.

"enough fiber, and enough water"

For a healthy person, normal bowel movements require two things, enough fiber, and enough water. If you are getting enough fiber in your diet, and if you are drinking plenty of water, you should not be having constipation.

Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers, eating fruits, and berries, and anything else they could find. Your digestive system evolved to handle a diet loaded with fiber.

When there is not enough bulk in your diet, your intestines have difficulty moving things through the system.

"in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables"

As your bowel movement passes through the colon, water is absorbed back into the body. If it stays in the colon too long, your stool becomes hard and dried out, and difficult to expel.

So, to avoid constipation and back pain, you must have enough fiber. It may be in the form of fresh fruits and vegetables, or as a diet supplement such as psyllium.

Fiber supplements are widely available, read the directions and begin with a small dose, then gradually increase to the maximum daily amount.

"The other key to avoiding constipation..."

Some of these supplements may cause gas and flatulence, if that becomes a problem, try a different type of supplement. Fiber supplements will not work overnight, they may take several days to a few weeks before you notice a change.

The other key to avoiding constipation is water. Opinions seem to vary on exactly how much water you should drink, but everyone agrees that dehydration will cause constipation.

Without enough water your intestines cannot move food through your system. It is very difficult to get too much water. So, if you are drinking enough water that you need to use the bathroom every 4-5 hours, you will not become dehydrated.

If You are still having Problems with Constipation and Back Pain

Now, having said all of that, if you are getting enough water and enough fiber in your diet, and if you are still having constipation and back pain, you need to see your doctor.

There are many diseases and other conditions that can cause constipation. Your doctor will examine you and order the appropriate tests.

Then he can start you on a treatment program to regulate your bowel movements and resolve your constipation. If your back pain was being caused by constipation, it too should improve.

"you should review my other pages"

If you are continuing to have back pain after the resolution of your constipation, you should review my other pages on Causes of Back Pain, and Back Pain Treatments.

If your back pain is so severe that you are unable to sit on the toilet or have a bowel movement, you need to see your doctor immediately for evaluation of your spine.

Anytime you are having difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder, or having progressive weakness in your legs, it becomes a medical emergency. If you are unable to hold your urine, or hold your bowel movements, or if you are unable to empty your bladder or push out your bowel movements, you should go to the emergency room, or call 911.

"does not respond to dietary changes"

So, in conclusion, if you are experiencing constipation and back pain, you should try treating the constipation with a high fiber diet.

If your constipation and pain does not respond to dietary changes,you may need to see your doctor for an evaluation of your bowels and your spine.

There may be something more serious happening and the key to a positive outcome is always, early diagnosis, and early treatment.

Maybe these can help:

Back Pain Treatments

National Digestive Diseases                                   Information Clearinghouse

Return from Constipation and Back Pain to Causes of Back Pain

Return to Living with Back Pain

Discover our Very Popular Newsletter "Yes You Can"   

Check our "Back Issues" and see what you have been missing