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Back pain is one of the most common ailments among the general population, and is notably unpleasant for those dealing with it. While many things may cause back pain, such as twisting too sharply or lifting something incorrectly, it can also result from a more internal cause.
One source of pain that originates from within the body is GERD, but can this gastrointestinal disease also cause back pain? Continue reading to learn more.
Table of Contents
- What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
- Common Symptoms of GERD
- Can GERD Cause Back Pain?
- How Could Your Back Pain and GERD Be Connected?
- How Can You Treat Back Pain From GERD?
- When to See a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
GERD is a condition in which stomach acid frequently flows back up through the esophagus to the mouth. It results when the lower esophageal sphincter, which is the valve at the end of the esophagus, does not close properly after food travels into your stomach. As a result, this opening allows acid backwash to flow back up the esophagus into the throat and mouth.
While acid reflux, or the acid backwash up the esophagus, will occur to nearly everyone at some point in their life, those with GERD experience it frequently, more than twice a week, for multiple weeks. Furthermore, those with GERD may find that taking antacids and heartburn medications does not stop their symptoms from returning.
Common Symptoms of GERD
The most common symptoms of GERD include:
- backwash of food or sour liquid
- heartburn, usually after eating
- difficulty swallowing
- upper abdominal or chest pain
- feeling as though you have a lump in your throat
In many instances, GERD symptoms will worsen at night or while lying down. The latter is because the positioning makes it easier for acid to travel through the esophagus to the mouth.
For those with nighttime acid reflux, additional symptoms may include inflammation of the vocal cords, an ongoing cough, or new or worsening asthma.
Can GERD Cause Back Pain?
In some cases, GERD may cause back pain, often due to heartburn. Heartburn is a burning sensation felt in the chest and a sour taste in the mouth resulting from acid reflux. In addition to these symptoms, it may also cause pain in the middle of your back.
Part of this is because heartburn causes pain in your chest and throat, which can then radiate to your back. So, while GERD does not directly affect the back, pain may still be felt there.
How Could Your Back Pain and GERD Be Connected?
While GERD may lead to back pain, it’s also likely that something is causing both of these conditions to occur at the same time. Listed below are some possible connections between GERD and back pain.
Correct posture is vital for keeping the spine, muscles, ligaments, and tendons properly aligned. If you have poor posture, you’re more likely to stretch your back in a way that it should not, causing back pain.
However, not only can poor posture cause back pain, but if you hunch while eating, you can also trigger acid reflux. This occurs because hunching over can cause more pressure to be applied to the stomach and diaphragm, affecting how well the body can digest food.
To prevent this from occurring, try to focus on sitting up straight when you consume your food to help the food travel through the digestive tract without leaving any valves open.
Sometimes it’s another condition causing your back pain, but one that can result from GERD. This is the case with ulcers, which can result from stomach acids and juices backing into the esophagus. As this continually happens, as is the case with GERD, it can irritate and wear away the lining of the esophagus. In some cases, sores called ulcers may form, which can cause bloating, gas, and abdominal pain.
This abdominal pain can sometimes radiate to the back, making it feel as though you have back pain.
Another connection between GERD and back pain can result from heartburn, which is a component of GERD. In addition to causing a burning sensation in your chest, heartburn may also cause pain in the middle of your back.
If GERD is chronic, it is common for symptoms to increase in intensity, which may result in the spread of chest pain to the middle back, lower back, or abdomen.
During pregnancy, back pain is common because of the shift in posture as the body adjusts to the excess weight of the fetus. Additionally, acid reflux can be more common in pregnancy, increasing the odds of GERD.
In this case, both back pain and GERD are symptoms of the same medical condition.
How Can You Treat Back Pain From GERD?
When it comes to back pain and GERD, the key to relieving any pain is to address its source, which is GERD itself. As such, it is essential to remember that while you may want to lie down because of your back pain, this positioning can worsen your GERD, so it’s not recommended. Instead, find somewhere to sit for a while.
When you sit, you can further help your back pain by practicing good posture, allowing the diaphragm to stretch out. This accomplishes the same effect as lying down but without the fear of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus.
In addition to this immediate solution, other ways to treat acid reflux include lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medication.
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce occurrences of acid reflux, which can then limit any back pain resulting from it.
Some of these changes include:
- staying hydrated
- maintaining a healthy weight
- eating smaller meals
- quitting smoking
- avoiding food triggers
- sleeping with your head elevated
- not eating a large meal within two hours of lying down or going to sleep
- removing alcohol and caffeine from your diet
These changes can prevent acid reflux from occurring. For instance, certain trigger foods for GERD can set off reflux, including coffee, chocolate, peppermint, fried foods, spicy foods, and carbonated beverages. By avoiding these foods entirely, you reduce the likelihood of GERD occurring.
Another option is to keep a food diary so that you can find which foods, in particular, set off your acid reflux. This way, you don’t have to avoid any foods that do not trigger reflux.
Other lifestyle changes keep stomach acid from entering the esophagus, such as avoiding lying down within two hours of a large meal or keeping the head elevated while sleeping. You can use an extra pillow or two to accomplish the latter.
Anything that helps promote digestion can also help to prevent heartburn and its associated back pain. Eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day is one way to do this.
Smoking has also been shown to increase the production of stomach acid while making the lower esophageal sphincter less functional, increasing the risk of stomach acid returning to the esophagus. By quitting smoking, you can reduce the likelihood of GERD occurring.
Various OTC medications can also help to treat your GERD. For instance, antacids can help quickly neutralize stomach acid. For those with heartburn symptoms, including back pain, an antacid may help relieve them quickly.
For less quick but longer-lasting symptom relief, there are H2 blockers, which block the action of histamine and reduce the amount of acid produced. These can be available both OTC and through a prescription.
Yet another medication that blocks the production of acid in the stomach lining, and keeps acid from flowing back into the esophagus, is proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are often considered in cases of severe or persistent GERD. These medications are also available OTC or with a prescription and are often taken for an extended amount of time.
When to See a Doctor?
A common symptom of GERD is chest pain, but this may also be indicative of a heart attack. If you experience chest pain, especially alongside jaw or arm pain and shortness of breath, seek immediate medical attention.
Furthermore, it is recommended to see a doctor if your GERD symptoms are frequent or if they ever become severe. Not only will seeing a doctor help relieve your symptoms, but leaving GERD untreated can result in more serious problems developing, so you will want to seek treatment as soon as possible.
In cases where lifestyle alterations do not help remedy your GERD symptoms or OTC medications are not effective enough, a doctor can help by prescribing a prescription-strength H2 blocker or PPI.
For those looking for a quick and convenient way to talk to a doctor, DrHouse can connect you with an online doctor in just 15 minutes, where you can discuss your symptoms and determine if GERD is the cause of (or related to) your back pain.
GERD results from the frequent reflux of stomach acid up the esophagus, causing heartburn, pain, and a sour taste in the mouth. The resulting heartburn, in particular, may manifest with middle back pain, which is how GERD may cause pain in your back.
There are many other connections between GERD and back pain. For instance, GERD and back pain may result from the same thing, such as poor posture or pregnancy, or GERD may cause one thing, such as ulcers, which can then cause back pain.
The best way to treat back pain from GERD is by treating your acid reflux. Medications are available to reduce heartburn and the amount of stomach acid produced. Additionally, lifestyle changes can help prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. If these remedies are not helping, an online doctor can provide professional guidance.
- Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults – NIDDK. (2023). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults
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- Katzka, D., & Kahrilas, P. (2020). Advances in the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. BMJ, m3786. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3786
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