Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Paris, D.C on Nov. 6, 2018.
Are you experiencing lower back pain that radiates to your abdominal area?
Stomach and back pain often go hand-in-hand. After all, they are two sides of the same coin.
Stomach pain is very common among people who suffer from chronic lower back pain.
Either your back and stomach pain have a single cause, or the two symptoms are unrelated.
So how are you supposed to tell the difference?
One clue is the timing of your symptoms.
If you’ve been experiencing back pain for years, but the pain only recently spread to your abdomen, it could be a cause for concern.
Sometimes pain in the back and stomach indicates a medical emergency. Other times, it’s a sign of a worsening back injury.
This article will give you a good overview of what could be causing your back and stomach pain, what you should do about it, and when you should start to worry.
Table of contents
6 causes of stomach and back pain
There are several conditions that could be causing your back and stomach pain.
Acute pain (pain that develops suddenly) might indicate a gastrointestinal or muscular problem, such as a stomach bug or pulled muscle, but it can also be a sign of something serious.
Inflammation and irritation of the internal organs can usually be felt somewhere around the midsection. And it can feel like it’s coming at you from all directions.
Take a minute to read this quick overview of possible causes of back and stomach pain. Any one of these conditions could be the cause of your pain—some of them are pretty serious.
You will need to visit your personal physician for an accurate diagnosis if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
1. Peptic Ulcer
A peptic ulcer is an open sore on the lining of your stomach or small intestine. One of the most common causes of ulcers is the long-term use of aspirin and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve).
NSAIDs can cause severe stomach irritation and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Symptoms of a peptic ulcer include:
> burning stomach pain
> bloating or full-feeling
> pain after eating spicy or fatty foods
2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
IBS is a common condition affecting the large intestine. The large intestine has muscles that expand and contract during digestion, allowing food to move through your system.
Abnormally fast or intense muscle contractions (spasms) can cause cramping around the stomach and back.
Other signs of IBS include:
Your pancreas is an organ in your upper abdomen. It has a number of important functions, including insulin production.
Pancreatitis occurs when your pancreas becomes swollen or inflamed.
This condition can come on suddenly (acute pancreatitis) or progress slowly over the course of many years (chronic pancreatitis). Without treatment, pancreatitis can cause a number of serious complications.
Other signs and symptoms include:
> pain in the upper abdomen that radiates to your back
> pain that is worse after eating
> losing weight without trying
> abdominal tenderness
Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen. It contains a digestive fluid called bile that helps your body break down fats.
Gallstones happen when certain components of bile start to harden and accumulate into little pebbles.
You can have hundreds of tiny gallstones, or gallstones that grow as big as a golf ball.
These stones can get lodged in your bile ducts and cause a sudden attack of intensifying pain in your stomach and back. The pain is usually worse on the right side of your body.
Other signs of gallstones include:
> pain in between your shoulder blades
> pain in your right shoulder
Pain in the back and stomach is sometimes the result of an infection in the kidneys or urinary tract.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) happen when bacteria enter your body through the urethra and begin growing out of control. Without treatment, these infections can spread to one or both kidneys.
Your kidneys are located in the abdomen, near your back.
Kidney infections can cause permanent damage and even become life-threatening, so if you think you have one, get yourself to a doctor ASAP.
Signs of a kidney infection include:
> pain in the lower back on one or both sides
> pain in the abdomen
> pain on your sides or in your groin
> frequent urination or persistent urge to go
> burning sensation during urination
> discolored, bloody, or smelly urine
6. Referred Pain
Referred pain happens when you feel pain in one part of your body, but the pain is actually coming from someplace else. The classic example of this is people who feel pain in their left arm rather than their chest during a heart attack.
Referred pain happens when your nervous system gets its wires crossed, so to speak.
When you pull a muscle in your lower back, nerve fibers send messages telling your brain that your tissue has been damaged. Sometimes your brain gets these signals mixed up, which can cause you to experience pain someplace else, like your abdomen.
Other signs of a strained or sprained back include:
> muscle spasms
> tenderness in the lower back
> pain with movement
> limited mobility
Key Takeaway: Back and stomach pain frequently occur together, but the causes are not always related. If you have sudden, severe, or intensifying pain, you should consult a doctor.
Can I use NSAIDs to treat my pain?
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are over-the-counter pain relievers commonly used to treat pain and swelling.
At one point or another, you have probably tried an NSAID like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) to help with a headache or swollen ankle.
It’s a well-documented fact that NSAIDs can cause a number of damaging and dangerous side effects.
NSAIDs (other than aspirin) increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.[i]
Even if you have no other risk factors, like obesity or high blood pressure, NSAIDs can still increase your risk of a deadly heart attack or disabling stroke.
And if you are using NSAIDs to treat acute or chronic pain of the spine, they may actually be the cause of your stomach pain.
According to the FDA, NSAIDs can cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues, ranging from mild indigestion to life-threatening bleeding.[ii]
Gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, which is bleeding in the stomach or elsewhere in the digestive tract, is rare among people who use NSAIDs only occasionally. But the risk goes up for people who use them regularly.
Your risk of a severe GI bleed also goes up if you:
> are over the age of 65
> have a history of stomach ulcers
> regularly drink alcohol
> take blood thinners (Warfarin, coumadin)
> take corticosteroids (prednisone)
Thankfully, there are other ways to treat your back and stomach pain.
Key Takeaway: NSAIDs may be contributing to your stomach pain and putting you at risk of serious, even life-threatening complications.
3 natural ways to treat pain
If you’ve been to the doctor to rule out a serious condition — like the ones outlined above — then consider these alternative solutions that you can start right away, right in the comfort of your home.
1. Fix the root of the problem.
Muscle imbalances happen when certain muscles work too hard and others don’t work hard enough.
Your muscles are designed to complement, not compete with one another. One overly weak or dominant muscle can literally pull everything off track.
I recommend learning more about my targeted Muscle Balance Therapy™ program.
2. Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet.
Inflammation occurs for a number of reasons, including injuries and general wear-and-tear on the muscles and joints. But sugary refined foods can actually increase your inflammatory response and amplify to your pain.
You need to learn which foods to avoid and which nutrient- and antioxidant-rich foods you should be eating more of.
You can learn more about how to improve your diet by cutting out foods that cause inflammation.
3. Use the right kind of heating pad.
Traditional heating pads feel relaxing, but they only heat the top layers of your tissues.
What you need is a heating pad that targets deep muscle tissue and internal organs, such as a heating pad that uses far infrared waves.
The body responds to this deep-heating effect by improving blood flow to the area.
Improved blood flow = improved healing.
Final thoughts and key takeaways
There are many possible explanations for your back and stomach pain, some of which require a doctor’s attention. Others can be fixed by reducing inflammation, avoiding irritants, and being more informed about your treatment choices.
Key takeaway #1: If you have been using NSAIDs to treat a strained or aching lower back, they may be the cause of your problem.
Key takeaway #2: NSAIDs can cause additional problems, like increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Key takeaway #3: There are natural treatments available that can help ease the pain and get to the root of your problem.
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Editor’s note: This article has been reviewed by a member of our medical advisory board. The content provided is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your physician if you have any questions about your health.
i “NSAIDs: Do they increase my risk of heart attack or stroke?” Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org) Acc. Oct. 16, 2018.
ii “The Benefits and Risks of Pain Relievers: Q & A on NSAIDs with Sharon Hertz, M.D.” Food & Drug Administration (fda.gov) Accessed Oct. 15, 2018