What is the Connection Between Heartburn and Back Pain?

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  • Originally Written By: Anna B. Smith
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 09 March 2020
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There are a number of reasons why many people experience heartburn and back pain together, but the three biggest are esophageal damage, bad sleeping position, and gallbladder problems. Heartburn that is chronic or has been going on for a long time can burn the delicate tissues on the inside of the esophagus, which can trigger nerve sensations and pain in the upper and middle back. In these cases the pain will usually go away once the heartburn is treated. Some people try to adjust their sleep positions to relieve the problem at night but do so in ways that contort the back or cause alignment problems with the spine, which can also lead to back pain. Gallbladder problems can trigger both heartburn-like symptoms and intense muscular pain between the shoulder blades, and is usually the most severe of the possibilities. Immediate treatment including surgery is usually required in these cases. In general, medical experts recommend that anyone who is concerned about ongoing heartburn together with back pain get a medical check-up to rule out any serious conditions, as well as to get tips on how to remedy the situation.


Esophageal Damage

Heartburn, also sometimes called “acid reflux,” is typically caused by digestive acids churning back through the upper opening of the stomach. This generally occurs in individuals with poor functioning sphincters, which should keep the stomach closed; it can also be triggered by certain highly acidic foods or foods that otherwise irritate the stomach’s lining. The acids that bubble back up may erode the lining of the esophagus and burn the back of the throat.

Following multiple episodes of severe heartburn, the soft tissues of the digestive track may begin to experience long-term damage. This can cause pain in the upper-middle back. In most cases this type of back pain is not related to any true muscular damage, and it should go away more or less on its own when the heartburn is treated and the esophageal tissues begin to heal. Severe heartburn may also induce fits of coughing which, over a period of time, can cause back pain.

Problems With Sleeping Position

Episodes of chronic heartburn commonly occur late at night, often just before bed. In part this has to do with the changed body position this time of day normally brings: when people are standing up, excess acid has to fight against gravity to move up the esophagus, though the job is much easier in a person who is reclining or lying down.

Sufferers may attempt to treat the condition initially by changing their sleeping positions in order to sleep in an elevated position, often through the use of multiple pillows. This inclined sleeping posture can often lead to back pain if done improperly. Sleeping on lumpy, bumpy pillows can cause the spine to become misaligned, and can also lead to muscular strain and tension.

Gallbladder Issues

Heartburn and back pain might also be indicative of a malfunctioning gallbladder, though in these cases there are usually a range of other symptoms, too. The gallbladder is a small organ that sits just behind the liver and helps the body process bile. Problems with this organ, such as disease or gallstones, often intensify and can sometimes even cause heartburn. These problems are often accompanied by a backwash of food into the mouth or severe vomiting. Pain related to the diseased organ usually happens in the middle back, just beneath the shoulder blades.

Gallbladder problems usually require surgery to fix. Stones, which form in response to chemical imbalances and dietary problems, can usually be removed with a quick procedure, and excess bile can often be flushed out by skilled surgeons. People who have chronic issues with the organ may need to have it removed, though.

When to Get Help

Anyone who experiences back pain accompanied by severe acid reflux should usually consult a medical professional in order to rule out gallbladder problems. If left untreated, gallbladder issues can lead to infection, inflammation, and in rare cases death. Doctors usually perform a sonograms or other external scans to diagnose whether the gallbladder is the source of the pain. In any event, medical professionals are often able to give personalized advice on minimizing the patient’s problems during an exam, and can help the patient identify lifestyle changes that might reduce the symptoms.

Pain in the chest that is accompanied by pain in the back may also be a sign of a heart attack. In some cases the heartburn and back pain can also include a tightness or pain in the shoulder and arm as well. This may follow a period in which the sufferer feels an overall sense of being unwell. Those suspecting a heart attack should immediately seek medical help in order to prevent lasting damage.


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Post 3

Sometimes the abdominal pain and bloating associated with heartburn can be confused with lower back pain.

If your heartburn goes away and your back beings to feel better, the back pain might just be a mistaken side effect of the heartburn.

Post 2

What is more common, heartburn and lower back pain, or heartburn and upper back pain? I have experienced both, but upper back pain seems to be more common. Is this something I should be concerned about? After reading that tidbit about the gallbladder I am wondering if I should mention something to my doctor.

Post 1

I often experience back pain and heartburn simultaneously. I think it is because when I have heartburn I become very tense and still. I end up holding my body in these odd, contorted positions and eventually my back cramps up.

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