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Why do I get a pain in my back after eating?

Back pain after eating is often the result of referred pain. This is pain that originates in one area of the body and radiates to another. Several problems can cause back pain after eating, ranging from poor posture to ulcers.

Read on to learn more about back pain after eating and a variety of treatments.

Causes

The following issues can lead to back pain after eating:

1. Allergies and intolerances

Senior lady with back pain after eating
Inflammation and back pain may be caused by dairy, gluten, and sugar.

People with allergies or intolerances to certain foods may experience inflammation after eating them. If they already have back pain, the inflammation can make symptoms worse.

Examples of foods that may trigger inflammation and back pain include:

  • alcohol
  • dairy
  • gluten
  • peanuts
  • sugar

Some foods can aggravate underlying conditions, resulting in back pain. For example, very spicy foods can cause heartburn, making back pain worse.

2. Gallbladder inflammation and gallstones

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ that sits below the liver. It stores and releases bile, a fluid that helps the body to digest fats.

The gallbladder can become inflamed, especially if hard deposits known as gallstones are present. Eating fatty foods can trigger a gallbladder attack, in which the organ becomes inflamed and causes pain.

Typical symptoms of a gallbladder attack include nausea and severe pain in the upper abdomen. This pain may radiate to the back.

3. Heart attack

Back pain can signal a heart attack, especially if accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • chest pain
  • lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • pain in the arm, jaw, or neck
  • sweating

According to the American Heart Association, women are more likely than men to experience atypical heart attack symptoms. These may include:

  • back pain
  • pressure in the upper back
  • dizziness
  • pain in the abdomen
  • shortness of breath

It should be noted that women do not always have chest pain when experiencing heart problems.

4. Heartburn

Back pain after eating may result from heartburn, a digestive condition characterized by burning pain in the chest. It is estimated that over 15 million Americans experience heartburn every day.

Other symptoms may include a sour taste in the mouth, a sore throat, and a cough. Certain foods may trigger heartburn symptoms, including:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • spicy foods
  • tomatoes

Experiencing heartburn more than twice a week may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD, which can lead to ulcers if not properly managed.

5. Kidney infection

woman suffering with back pain that may occur after eating
A kidney infection may cause vomiting, fever, nausea, and back pain.

A kidney infection can cause back pain, as well as:

  • abdominal pain
  • blood in the urine
  • a burning sensation while urinating
  • chills
  • fever
  • frequent urination
  • nausea
  • urinary urgency
  • vomiting

Symptoms are typically present throughout the day, though some people may notice them more after eating. Anyone who suspects that they have a kidney infection should seek medical attention to prevent complications.

6. Pancreatitis

The pancreas is an organ that participates in digestion and blood sugar regulation. Inflammmation of the pancreas is known as pancreatitis. Symptoms include:

  • abdominal pain that gets worse after eating
  • back pain
  • a fast pulse
  • fever
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Authors of a 2013 study report that approximately 70 percent of pancreatitis cases are caused by long-term, heavy alcohol consumption.

7. Poor posture

Bad posture is a common cause of back pain. A person who is hunched over during meals may experience this pain after eating.

Poor posture while sitting, standing, or working at a desk can also lead to back pain at any time of the day.

8. Ulcer

An ulcer in the stomach or esophagus may lead to pain that radiates to the back. Other ulcer symptoms include:

  • belching
  • bloating
  • a burning pain in the stomach
  • feeling full after eating
  • gas
  • heartburn
  • nausea

Infection with Helicobacter pylori H. pylori often causes ulcers. They may also be caused by long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen Advil, Motrin or naproxen sodium Aleve.

Spicy or acidic foods can make ulcer symptoms worse.

Treatment

Treatment for back pain after eating depends on the underlying cause. Common treatments are listed below.

Dietary changes

men drinking beer
Alcohol may trigger symptoms of heartburn, ulcers, or food intolerances.

If back pain results from heartburn, ulcers, or food intolerances, it may be helpful to remove trigger foods from the diet.

Trigger foods vary from person to person, but common culprits include:

  • alcohol
  • bread and gluten
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • peanuts
  • spicy foods
  • sugary foods
  • tomatoes

To identify trigger foods, it may be helpful to keep a food diary or work with a dietitian.

Medications

Medications used to treat back pain after eating will vary significantly, depending on the problem. For example:

  • Antibiotics can treat kidney infections and H. pylori infections.
  • Pain relievers may control symptoms of pancreatitis and gallbladder inflammation, when these cases are mild.
  • Proton pump inhibitors and acid blockers can help to treat heartburn, GERD, and ulcers.

Physical therapy and exercise

Physical therapists are able to correct poor posture. They may recommend stretches and exercises to help strengthen the core muscles and support the back and spine.

Exercises practiced in yoga, Pilates, and tai chi may be particularly beneficial.

Other treatment

If a doctor cannot identify the cause of back pain after eating, try common remedies for generalized back pain. These include resting, applying ice and taking pain relievers.

Prevention

Here are some tips to prevent back pain after eating:

  • exercising regularly, to keep muscles strong and prevent poor posture
  • sitting up straight when eating or sitting at a desk, and use lower back support if necessary
  • avoiding foods that trigger heartburn and intolerances
  • reducing stress to avoid irritating ulcers and contributing to muscular tension
  • limiting alcohol consumption
  • avoiding fatty, spicy, or sugary foods
  • addressing underlying medical conditions and infections without delay

When to see a doctor

Anyone with persistent or worsening back pain should speak to a doctor.

Seek prompt medical treatment if the pain is accompanied by symptoms such as:

  • burning pain while urinating, or other urinary symptoms
  • black or tarry stools, which suggest an ulcer

Contact emergency services if back pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms of a cardiac event:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • nausea
  • pain in the abdomen, arm, jaw, or neck
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating

Takeaway

Back pain after eating is usually the result of referred pain from another area of the body, and it is not always a cause for concern.

However, if the pain persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, it is important to see a doctor.

Most causes of back pain after eating can be easily treated with medication, lifestyle changes, and dietary modifications.