Can Acid Reflux Cause Back Pain?

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 2, 2022

Do you experience back pain after you eat a large meal?

You might assume that the pain is related to digestive issues, since it can appear somewhat out of the blue.

To determine if your back pain is related to gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), you will need to look at your other symptoms, specifically heartburn, as heartburn can travel from your chest and throat to your lower back and between your shoulder blades. 

GERD can feel like an uncomfortable burning sensation in the back of the throat, a tightness in the chest, and an upset stomach.

Usually brought on by eating a meal too quickly or eating too much, an attack of GERD can leave you feeling debilitated, perhaps especially when back pain is present as well. 

What is Acid Reflux?

If you’ve ever had a sour taste in your throat after you’ve eaten too quickly, consumed a large meal, or if you’ve felt a burning in your esophagus and a tightness in your chest, it’s likely you were experiencing acid reflux.

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid or bile enters the lower esophageal sphincter and irritates the pipe lining.

This may make it difficult to swallow, to speak, and is generally uncomfortable.  

If you have acid reflux, while your instinct may be to get in bed and relax, lying down may actually make it worse.

Most cases will go away on their own in a few hours aided by over-the-counter medications or home remedies, but if you experience acid reflux and back pain regularly, you should see a doctor.

Symptoms

If you think your back pain is caused by acid reflux, you may have any or all the following symptoms:

  • Lower back pain: a soreness in your spine after eating a large meal.
  • Heartburn: a burning pain that can travel from your stomach to your lower abdomen and up to your chest. 
  • Dyspepsia (indigestion): this is when your stomach is upset and is categorized by burping, belching, bloating, and heartburn.
  • Nausea: an upset stomach brought on by burping, heaving, or regurgitating.
  • Abdominal pain
  • Regurgitation: a sour or bitter taste in your mouth or throat that can cause wet burps. You may also experience dry-heaving
  • Dysphagia: the feeling of food being stuck in your throat.

Causes

There are several causes of acid reflux and back pain.

These include:

  • Posture: if you hunch over while you are eating, it can trigger back pain and acid reflux. Consider sitting up straight when consuming your food.
  • Pregnancy: you are also more likely to experience back pain after eating accompanied by acid reflux from the pressure put on your stomach and your posture while consuming.
  • Ulcers: abdominal pain, bloating, and gas are symptoms of a peptic ulcer. It can be accompanied by back pain and should be checked out by a doctor.
  • Heartburn: a burning sensation in your chest, and pain in the middle of your back are symptoms of heartburn and GERD.
  • Obesity: being overweight pushes on your stomach and can cause GERD.
  • Eating late at night: eating a large meal and then lying down can bring on a case of acid reflux.
  • Physical injury: an injury that prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from working properly can increase your likelihood of getting acid reflux.

Back Pain Caused by Acid Reflux

Experiencing sharp pain in your chest and back?

Here’s why it happens and some risks and warnings to look out for.

Why It Happens

If not effectively treated, acid reflux can turn into chronic cases of GERD.

The symptoms of GERD include heartburn which can cause lower back pain.

The pain in your chest and throat can radiate to your lower back.

Hunching over while eating a large meal can trigger this back pain as well, as your posture may apply more pressure on your stomach and diaphragm and affect your ability to digest food clearly.

Risks and Warnings

If you are experiencing chronic cases of GERD and heartburn, you may notice an increased intensity in your symptoms.

Your chest pain may radiate to your back between your shoulder blades, lower back, and down into your abdomen.

You should visit a doctor if your heartburn is manifesting as increased back pain.

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Treating Back Pain Caused from Acid Reflux

Your impulse when experiencing nausea from acid reflux may be to lie down.

Lying down can  actually aggravate your acid reflux more, so instead consider finding a calm, quiet place to sit for a while.

To alleviate back pain brought on by acid reflux, improve your posture when you sit to stretch out your diaphragm.

In most cases, acid reflux can be treated with home remedies, lifestyle changes, and over-the-counter medications. 

Lifestyle Changes 

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stay hydrated
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid food triggers (these can include citrus, spicy foods, etc.)
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Sit up straight when eating
  • Don’t eat a large meal within two hours of lying down or going to bed
  • Sleep with your head elevated
  • Eliminate caffeine from your diet
  • Eliminate alcohol from your diet

Medications

Some medications can be helpful in treatment of acid reflux, including those that are available over-the-counter and some that you may need a prescription to obtain.

  • Antacids: Mylanta, Rolaids, and Tums are antacids that neutralize stomach acid and can work quickly and efficiently to reduce your symptoms. You can purchase antacids over-the-counter. You should consider visiting a doctor if acid reflux is a regular recurrence.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): Take PPIs such as Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec l to reduce stomach acid and allow the lining of the esophagus to heal.
  • H-2-receptor blockers:  Zantac 360, Pepcid, Tagamet, and Axid are some H-2-receptor blockers that reduce the amount of acid the stomach produces. They do not work as quickly as antacids but they can reduce stomach acid for up to 12 hours.

At-Home Remedies

There are also some at-home remedies that may be helpful, including the following:

  • Chew gum: According to the NCBI, chewing gum when experiencing acid reflux can increase your swallowing frequency. This helps to clear out reflux within the esophagus.
  • Take Ginger: Ginger is a core ingredient used in Chinese medicine for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Taking a small amount of ginger can help calm your stomach. Consider steeping ginger root, taking supplements, or chewing ginger.

When to See a Doctor

It’s time to see a doctor when you have explored your options with home remedies, over-the-counter medications, and lifestyle changes and are still suffering from GERD regularly.

Ongoing symptoms could indicate a more serious health condition.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately:

  • Severe chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe pain in your upper back
  • Pain in the neck, jaw, or arm
  • Difficulty swallowing or feeling that food is getting stuck after swallowing
  • Vomiting blood or black material
  • Blood in your stool
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • A chronic cough or choking sensation

Mild cases of acid reflux can be treated with over-the-counter medicine, but recurring or severe symptoms could indicate a more serious health condition and if you’re experiencing them, you should see a doctor.

More than likely, they will do a physical examination and potentially order other tests such as an endoscopy.

Your doctor may also want to do a blood or stool test to determine if your recurring GERD is the result of a bacterial infection that will need antibiotic treatment.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does back pain caused by acid reflux last?
Depending on the cause, you could experience back pain, chest pain, and other effects of heartburn for two hours or longer.
Is there lasting damage caused by back pain from acid reflux?
It’s likely that ongoing back pain experienced from GERD is exacerbated back pain from another underlying issue and you should consult your doctor. If you have recurring cases of GERD, you could develop a painful ulcer or bleeding of the esophagus.
Will back pain caused by acid reflux go away by itself?
It can, but there are several available treatments to alleviate your pain. Consider taking NSAIDs to relieve back pain and antacids to help acid reflux.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.