Lower Back Pain with Nausea – Causes and Treatment

Just last month I saw a lady who had been suffering the combination of lower back pain nausea and fatigue for about 6 weeks.  Sudden back pain and nausea is relatively common.  But to have this combination for so long isn’t normal.  What was going on?  For an Edinburgh osteopath for 27 years, the search was on…

Lower back pain with nausea – causes

There are three possibilities to consider.

  1. The lower back pain and nausea could have separate causes; they may have just happened to start around the same time.
  2. They could have a common cause.
  3. Or the pain could cause the nausea.

Separate causes

Lower back pain has many possible causes and I’ve written a lot about this topic.  Nausea can also have a number of causes… Infection, some medications, early stages of pregnancy, alcohol consumption, intense pain, emotional stress, some cancers, gall bladder disease, inner ear problems to name a few.

Common cause

Could some of the above be causes of lower back pain AND nausea?   Yes.  It’s possible to have infections that cause lower back pain. Early stage pregnancy – especially where the fetus has implanted in the wrong place – can cause lower back pain and nausea. Cancers affecting the abdomen and lower back can cause nausea and lower back pain. Gall bladder disease tends to cause mid back pain and nausea, rather than lower back (and can refer pain to the tip of the right shoulder).

Lower Back Pain causing nausea

As listed above, pain can certainly cause nausea.  Quite commonly a sudden onset of severe pain can cause nausea.  This is mediated by the Sympathetic nervous system.  If you are in pain, the fear/flight/fight mode kicks in.  Your body may determine that it’s helpful to eject the contents of the stomach.  To lighten the load so that you can run faster.  Also to ensure that none of your precious energy is spent digesting food.  All energy is needed for running away.

Lower back pain with nausea – treatment

It’s vitally important to treat the cause and not just the symptom.  Prolonged symptoms of lower back pain and nausea – such as this lady had – require further investigation.  The fact that she had fatigue also could be relevant, but could be irrelevant.  Long-lasting pain is very tiring.  Fatigue is so common, it’s difficult to pin down cause and effect.

You can treat the nausea with anti-nausea medication called antiemetics (“emesis” means being sick).  Ginger is also meant to be good for nausea.

Lower back pain can be relieved in a number of ways, best summed up by my number 1 rule “Use it or lose it, but don’t abuse it.”  Medication is an option for relief.  But as Edinburgh osteopaths we add most value by looking at the risk factors and reducing those in order to prevent recurrence. If you’d like a brief overview of how to recover quickly from lower back pain, check out this article.

Lower back pain with nausea – causes and treatment summary

Establish the cause first.  The treatment will then follow.

Although the woman answered “no” to all our other questions designed to detect disease processes, my gut was telling me she was unwell.  That this wasn’t another case of mechanical back pain. This combined with the long period of nausea and fatigue indicated it was appropriate to seek more information and reassurance for her and me.  Unfortunately we discovered she had a cancerous tumour in her large intestine which was almost certainly causing her symptoms of lower back pain with nausea i.e. a common cause.  She is now undergoing appropriate treatment.

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