Stomach and Back Pain: 8 Causes & What to Do

Medical review: Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
November 2022

In most cases, back pain is caused by a muscle knot or changes to the spine. These can happen due to bad posture throughout the day, sitting at the computer with a rounded back, standing for many hours, or sleeping on a very soft or very hard surface. 

However, when back pain radiates to the stomach, it may be a sign of a kidney stone, gas, gallbladder inflammation or other gastrointestinal changes. 

If your stomach and back pain is intense enough to interfere with your day to day activities, or if it is accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, bloating, pain and burning with urination, or soft stools, you should see your doctor for assessment. He or she should identify the cause and initiate the most appropriate treatment. 

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1. Kidney stones

With kidney stones, it is common to experience intense lower back pain on either the left or right side, or both sides. However, in some cases, the pain may radiate to the abdominal region. In addition, kidney stones can cause inflammation in the kidneys, bladders and ureters, which can increase the risk of infection and additionally cause upper stomach pain. Learn more about what can cause kidney stones

What to do: You should proceed to the hospital to determine the size of the kidney stones and to initiate treatment that can relieve pain and get rid of the stone. 

2. Spinal problems 

Spinal arthrosis causes back pain closer to the neck or lower back. Although spinal issues will mostly affect the spine, pain can also radiate to the stomach. 

What to do: You should see in orthopedic surgeon for a lower spine x-rayto determine if there are any visisble changes. Pain can be treated with analgesics, anti-inflammatories or physiotherapy to improve posture and prevent worsening or complications (like a disc hernia or osteophytosis).

3. Gas

In some cases, the accumulation of intestinal gases can cause back and abdominal pain, leading to bloating. The pain can be sharp or stabbing, and it tends to start in one part of the stomach and shift to another part of the stomach. Read more about which foods cause excessive gas

What to do: Drinking a fennel tea and then walking for about 40 minutes may be beneficial in getting rid of the gas naturally. However, if the pain does not resolve, you can try drinking a plum-infused water, which promotes bowel movements and the passing of gas. Eat light, fresh meals, like fruits and vegetables, and drink sip small quantities of water throughout the day. Drinking chamomile or lemon balm tea can also help to relieve pain. Check-out our other home remedies for gas.

4. Gallbladder inflammation

Gallbladder inflammation is mostly caused by gallstones. This condition can lead to stomach pain, a heavy stomach, burping, bloating, nausea and vomiting, especially after fatty meals. You may experience both stomach and back pain, in which case, you should seek medical attention. Understand what can cause gallstones and the symptoms associated with them. 

What to do: You are advised to see a gastroenterologist to order an ultrasound and confirm the presence of a gallstone. The specialist will assess the need for surgical removal of the gallbladder. 

5. Intestinal disease

Intestinal diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome, generally cause abdominal pain that can radiate to the back diffusely. In addition to abdominal and back pain, you may also experience lower stomach pain, soft or hard stools, and bloating. 

What to do: You should monitor your intestinal symptoms and try to identify what causes constipation, gas or diarrhea. A consult with a gastroenterologist may be useful for assessment of other symptoms. Testing may be ordered to confirm a diagnosis and initiate treatment. 

6. Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis is a serious condition which requires immediate medical attention. Surgery be be necessary depending on the severity. Pain associated with pancreatitis usually starts off without a specific location and can affect the upper stomach, close to the ribs. It may then radiate to the back. As the inflammation worsens, the pain becomes more intense and more localized to the pancreas. 

What to do: You should proceed to the emergency room to confirm whether it is pancreatitis. Treatment usually involves the use of analgesics, anti-inflammatories and specific enzymes to promote good pancreatic function. Depending on the cause of inflammation (e.g. obstruction, tumor or infection), antibiotics or even surgical intervention may be necessary. 

7. Lumbago

Lumbago is lower back pain, however this pain can also be felt in the middle back, especially after excessive straining like going up stairs or carrying heavy bags. Sitting or standing for a long time can worsen the pain, causing it to radiate to the abdomen. If it radiates to the glutes or legs, it may be a sign of sciatic nerve inflammation. Check out other situations that specifically cause lower back pain

What to do: Applying a warm compress to the back can relieve mild to moderate pain. However, you should see an orthopedic surgeon to complete testing and start treatment, which can be done with physiotherapy. Try these lower back stretches to help you relieve pain at home. 

8. Pyelonephritis

Pyelonephritis is an upper urinary tract inflammation, which affects the kidneys and ureters. It happens due to bacteria that has moved up to this region, or due to a complication in the lower urinary tract. This condition can often cause intense back pain (on the side of the affected kidney), lower abdominal pain, high fever with chills or tremors, general malaise, nausea and vomiting. 

What ot do: Proceed to the emergency room, as you may need medications to relieve pain and fever, as well as antibiotics. The doctor will likely order blood and urine tests.  

Stomach and back pain during pregnancy 

Back pain that radiates to the abdomen at the start of pregnancy can happen due to an intercostal nerve problem, which can happen due to belly growth. However, it can also be a sign of a uterine contraction. If the pain starts in the stomach area and radiates to the back, it may be a sign of gastric reflux, which is common in pregnancy due to increased uterine volume and stomach compression. 

What it feels like: Pain caused by intercostal neuralgia is sharp and close to the ribs. Back pain that radiates to the lower stomach may be a sign of uterine contractions, which happen from labor. 

What to do: Apply a warm compress over the area of pain and stretch, leaning your body to the opposite side of the pain. Your obstetrician may recommend a vitamin B complex, which can help with peripheral nerve recovery. For reflux, you should ensure your diet is light and avoid lying down after eating. Learn about other ways you can relieve back pain during pregnancy

When to go to the doctor 

It is important to see the doctor when your back pain radiates to the abdomen and has the following characteristics: 

  • It is very intense and interferes with your activities of daily living, like eating, sleeping or walking 
  • It emerges after a fall, injury or blow 
  • Worsens after one week 
  • Persists for over a month 
  • You experience other symptoms like fecal or urinary incontinence, fever, tingling in the legs or diarrhea 

In these cases, the pain may be caused by more serious conditions, like organ inflammation or cancer. Therefore, you should go to the hospital for testing (e.g. x-ray or ultrasound) and to start appropriate treatment as soon as possible. 

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in November 2022. Medical review completed by Dr. Clarisse Bezerra - Family Doctor in May 2022.

References

  • GARCÍA, C. Dolor de espalda. PEDIATRÍA INTEGRAL. XVIII. 7; 413-424, 2014
  • UNIVERSIDAD DE CIENCIAS MÉDICAS DE MATANZAS. Dolor de espalda y malas posturas, ¿un problema para la salud?. 2018. Available on: <http://scielo.sld.cu/pdf/rme/v40n3/rme260318.pdf>. Access in 13 Jan 2022
Show more references
  • FREMAP. Guía para el cuidado de la espalda. Available on: <https://www.icv.csic.es/prevencion/Documentos/manuales/Guia_para_el_cuidado_de_la_espalda.pdf>. Access in 13 Jan 2022
Medical review:
Dr. Clarisse Bezerra
Family Doctor
Dr. Bezerra possesses a medical degree and specializes in family medicine. She is licensed to practice under CRM-CE licence #16976.