Bloating occurs when the abdomen fills with air or gas. This can make your abdomen appear larger and feel tight or hard to the touch. It can also cause feelings of discomfort and pain, which may be felt toward your back.
The back acts as a support and stabilizing system for your body. It’s vulnerable to injury and strain, so it’s not uncommon to feel back pain along with abdominal bloating. The pain can vary in severity and type, from sharp and stabbing, to dull and aching.
Here are 14 possible causes for abdominal bloating and back pain.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman’s emotions, physical health, and behavior during certain days of the menstrual cycle, generally just before her menses. Read more about PMS symptoms.
The symptoms of endometriosis vary. Some women experience mild symptoms, but others can have moderate to severe symptoms. Read more about assessing your risk of endometriosis.
Some of the most notable signs of early pregnancy include fatigue, nausea (also called morning sickness), swollen or tender breasts, and constipation. Some women may also experience cramps and light bleeding. Read more about things to keep in mind during pregnancy.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that often occur together. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common syndrome that causes many individuals to seek medical help. Read more about IBS triggers.
Many people have gallstones and never know it. Gallstones are hard deposits in your gallbladder, a small organ that stores bile, which is a digestive fluid made in the liver. Read more about the risk factors of gallstones.
Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A urinary tract infection (UTI) can occur in any part of the urinary tract. Bacteria cause the vast majority of UTIs. Read more about preventing UTIs.
Sometimes, a fluid-filled sac called a cyst will develop on one of the ovaries. Many women will develop at least one cyst during their lifetime. Read more about types of ovarian cysts.
In the case of an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg doesn’t attach to the uterus. Instead, it may attach to the fallopian tube, abdominal cavity, or cervix. This can be a medical emergency. Read more about ectopic pregnancies.
Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. Celiac disease symptoms usually involve the intestines and digestive system, but they can also affect other parts of the body. Read more about foods to avoid.
Fibromyalgia syndrome is a long-term or chronic disorder. It’s associated with widespread pain in the muscles and bones, areas of tenderness, and general fatigue. Read more about fibromyalgia.
Ovarian cancer can occur in several different parts of the ovary. Read more about ovarian cancer symptoms.
Polio (also known as poliomyelitis) is a highly contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Read more about polio and post-polio treatment.
The cause of your abdominal bloating and back pain may depend on which symptom came first. If back pain is your primary symptom, click here to read about the causes of back pain. If your primary symptom is abdominal bloating, read on.
Causes of abdominal bloating
Abdominal bloating is commonly caused by gas and air in the gastrointestinal tract. When your body breaks down undigested food, gas builds up in the digestive tract, from the esophagus to the large intestine. You can also swallow air. It’s possible to swallow more air than normal by:
- eating or drinking too quickly
- chewing gum
- wearing loose dentures
Burping and flatulence are two ways swallowed air leaves the body. Delayed emptying of the stomach (slow gas transport) in addition to gas accumulation can also cause bloating and abdominal distension.
Abdominal bloating and back pain typically resolve with time. If your abdominal bloating and back pain persist, make an appointment with your doctor. You may need medical attention if your symptoms are caused by infection or other severe or chronic illness.
These conditions may include:
See your doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if:
- you’re pregnant
- your abdominal bloating and back pain are more intense than before
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications, or heat or ice packs don’t provide relief
- bloating and pain impact daily functioning
You should also seek immediate attention if you have any of the following symptoms:
- blood in your stool
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- loss of consciousness
- uncontrolled vomiting
- fever or chills
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms for more than 24 hours:
Treatments for abdominal bloating and back pain depend on the cause of your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend basic blood tests or imaging to find the cause of your symptoms before recommending treatment.
Most of the time abdominal bloating and back pain will resolve itself, but there are steps you can take at home to manage any discomfort.
To reduce bloating:
- Drink plenty of water or other clear fluids.
- Take OTC gas or acid-reducing medications, such as antacids, simethicone drops, or digestive enzymes.
- Drink fewer carbonated drinks and reduce use of straws.
- Avoid eating too much foods that can cause gas, such as carbohydrate-containing foods like dried beans, dairy products with lactose, high-fructose items, and most starchy foods.
- Balance your intake of foods that contain soluble fiber (e.g. beans, oat bran) and insoluble fiber (e.g. wheat bran, leafy green vegetables), as digestion of soluble fiber in the large intestine causes gas.
- If you have a food intolerance, avoid eating or drinking those foods.
Everyone’s body is unique, so certain foods that may cause a lot of gas and bloating in one person may not do the same in another.
Treatments for back pain:
- Applying ice packs and heat packs alternately for 10 minutes at a time may help to relieve back pain and discomfort. Resting your back and refraining from heavy lifting can also minimize painful symptoms.
- Massages work as a complementary treatment for back pain. They may also provide extra relief for bloating.
- Exercise and good posture can help reduce back pain and may be beneficial for bloating as well.
- OTC pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may provide relief from back pain. However, there are risks with the overuse of these pain medications. Ask a doctor about other ways to manage pain if you need to take them for a prolonged period.
In addition to avoiding foods known to cause abdominal bloating, there are other lifestyle changes that can prevent symptoms. These include:
- drinking plenty of water, which helps to reduce constipation
- eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that promotes regularity in your digestive tract
- eating several small meals each day instead of fewer, larger ones
- exercising regularly
While you cannot always prevent back pain, employing proper lifting techniques and avoiding long periods of sitting can help you find some relief.