The classic symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is heartburn felt in the chest, but can this condition cause similar symptoms of burning pain in the back?
While people can experience GERD and back pain at the same time, it is more likely that the GERD is caused by something related to the existing back pain or its treatment, rather than GERD causing back pain. Here are some possible causes of GERD and acid reflux related to back pain—and how to handle them.
NSAIDs used to treat back pain
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to help alleviate pain and stiffness associated with back pain. Some common NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Unfortunately, some evidence suggests that NSAIDs can increase the risk for developing GERD. 1 Ruszniewski P1, Soufflet C, Barthélémy P. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use as a risk factor for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: an observational study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008 28(9):1134-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03821.x. While most people who use NSAIDs do not get GERD as a result, some people do.
If you suspect that your medications are causing or worsening symptoms of GERD, check with your doctor. There might be another medication or treatment option that can provide adequate back pain relief without worsening GERD symptoms.
Stress from ongoing pain
Stress can cause GERD in some people. 2 Song EM, Jung H-K, Jung JM. The association between reflux esophagitis and psychological stress. Dig Dis Sci. 2013; 58(2):471-7. doi: 10.1007/s10620-012-2377-z. And dealing with severe back pain, especially when it lingers or becomes chronic, can be stressful. In addition to the discomfort, chronic pain can prevent a person from working or doing activities they enjoy, such as playing a sport or going out with friends. This ongoing stress may increase the risk for developing GERD.
If you feel as though your back pain is isolating or a challenge to manage, consider talking with people who may be able to offer additional tips. Some ideas include:
- Join a support group. Discussing with others who are going through similar challenges can help. You may also learn tips that worked for someone else. Numerous support groups for chronic pain are available online. There might also be one or more local groups in your area that meet in person.
- Attend cognitive behavioral therapy. Talking with a mental health counselor or therapist may help you form new strategies for positive thinking and better pain management.
It can also help to be honest with family members and friends about how your back is feeling. They may be willing to pitch in and help with a chore or run an errand when needed.
Eating too much or trigger foods
Some people with debilitating back pain may become less active and potentially eat more, which can increase the risk for acid reflux and GERD. Greasy, fatty meals are common triggers for acid reflux. Many other potential trigger foods exist, such as:
- Citrus fruit
Trigger foods for acid reflux can vary widely from person to person, so it may take some trial and error to find your trigger foods. Eating smaller meals throughout the day, rather than big meals, may also reduce GERD symptoms. In addition, eating shortly before bedtime is not recommended because that can contribute to acid reflux during sleep.
Over time, untreated GERD can lead to worsening problems. If you have acid reflux or any other new symptoms in addition to ongoing back pain, be sure to mention it to your doctor.
- 1 Ruszniewski P1, Soufflet C, Barthélémy P. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug use as a risk factor for gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: an observational study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008 28(9):1134-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2036.2008.03821.x.
- 2 Song EM, Jung H-K, Jung JM. The association between reflux esophagitis and psychological stress. Dig Dis Sci. 2013; 58(2):471-7. doi: 10.1007/s10620-012-2377-z.