What can cause back pain and nausea?

Back pain and nausea: Possible causes and treatments
Back pain
and nausea can often occur together. Sometimes, the pain of a stomach issue can
radiate to the back. Vomiting can also cause pain and tension in the back.
Pain that
radiates from the stomach to the back may signal a problem with an organ such
as the liver or kidneys.
In this
article, we discuss the causes and other symptoms of back pain and nausea, when
to see a doctor, and some treatment options. We also look at how pregnancy can
increase the risk of nausea and back pain.
Causes and

Some common
causes of back pain and nausea include:
virus or food poisoning
causes pain and inflammation in the stomach as the result of an infection.
different types of infection can cause gastroenteritis, including norovirus and
food-borne illnesses such as salmonella.
A person
with gastroenteritis may experience intense stomach cramping that radiates to
the back. Sometimes, the condition may cause them to vomit so hard and so
frequently that the muscles of the stomach and back become sore.
Some home
remedies to try include limiting the diet to bland, easily digestible foods
such as whole wheat toast to ease the vomiting, and drinking plenty of water to
prevent dehydration.
usually clears up on its own, but a person should seek medical care if they:
  • cannot keep
    any food down
  • develop any
    symptoms of dehydration, such as sunken eyes
  • continue
    vomiting longer than 24 hours

Liver health

disease can also cause nausea and back pain. In most cases, the pain begins in
the upper right part of the stomach then radiates to the back.
conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer may cause pain that gets steadily
worse over many months.
disease, by contrast, can cause pain that slowly gets worse or pain that comes
on suddenly. The gallbladder sits under the liver, in the upper right section
of the abdomen. A person experiencing a gallbladder attack may report sharp,
intense pain in the upper abdomen, especially after eating.
It is not
safe to treat liver health issues at home. A person experiencing these symptoms
should either see a doctor or go to the emergency room.

is a condition wherein the pancreas becomes inflamed. It can be either chronic
or acute.
pancreatitis may cause sudden nausea, as well as pain in the upper abdomen that
radiates to the back.
symptoms include:
  • a swollen or
    tender stomach
  • a racing
  • fever
  • chalky or
    light colored bowel movements

is a serious and potentially life threatening illness. A person with symptoms
of pancreatitis should not attempt to treat them at home. They need to seek
emergency medical care.
stones or kidney infection

The kidneys
rest on either side of the mid-back. Experiencing pain in this area, especially
if it is just on one side, may signal either a kidney stone or a kidney
infection. The person may also experience nausea, and they may have pain that
radiates to the groin.
Many kidney
stones pass on their own, but it is important to seek medical care to assess
them. A doctor can also offer pain medication.
infections are very serious and can spread to other areas of the body. A person
with a kidney infection may also:
  • develop a
  • have chills
  • struggle to
    urinate or experience pain when urinating

In most
cases, a doctor will prescribe antibiotics.

An ulcer is
a break in the membrane of the gastrointestinal system. It may appear in the
stomach, intestines, or other digestive organs. These wounds can bleed and cause
intense pain, especially after eating a meal.
Some people
with ulcers experience nausea and pain after eating. Most ulcers do not cause
pain to radiate to the back, but deeper ulcers and those near the back may
cause back pain.
To ease the
pain of an ulcer, people can try:
  • taking
  • making
    dietary changes
  • changing
    position after eating

It is
important to see a doctor for ulcer-related pain. They may recommend
prescription medication. They will also be able to rule out other causes such
as pancreatitis.

disease causes small sacs to develop in the lining of the colon. It is very
common, especially as people age.
Some people
may develop a type of inflammation called diverticulitis. This occurs when the
sacs become inflamed. The pouches may even develop painful infections.
disease does not always produce symptoms. However, if they do occur, symptoms
might include:
  • stomach pain
  • pain that
    radiates to the back or groin
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • swelling in
    the stomach

If a person
does not seek treatment, diverticulitis can cause bleeding, and it may even
puncture the wall of the colon. For this reason, anyone experiencing back pain,
stomach problems, or nausea should see a doctor.
When to see
a doctor

It can be
difficult to tell one cause of nausea and back pain from another. It is best to
err on the side of caution if symptoms are severe.
A person
should consult a doctor if they experience any of the following symptoms:
  • nausea that
    lasts for several days or gets progressively worse
  • pain in the
    upper right portion of the stomach
  • intense
    stomach pain or itching during pregnancy
  • stomach pain
    that gets worse after meals or follows a specific pattern over days or weeks

A person
should go to the emergency room if they experience:
  • symptoms of
    pancreatitis, such as pale stool or stomach pain and a fever
  • intense
    stomach pain that feels unbearable
  • symptoms of
    a kidney stone, such as intense back pain that radiates to the groin


The right treatment
depends on the cause of the pain. Some home treatment options include:
  • eating more
  • changing the
  • drinking
    more water
  • eating
    smaller or more frequent meals
  • avoiding
    certain foods, such as very fatty or acidic foods

A doctor may
recommend a range of treatments, including:
  • taking
    medication for ulcers
  • undergoing
    surgery to resolve diverticulitis
  • going to the
    hospital, so that doctors can monitor the symptoms of pancreatitis
  • receiving
    intravenous fluids
  • undergoing
    surgery to remove gallstones


increases the risk of both nausea and back pain. The pregnancy hormone human
chorionic gonadotropin causes a wide range of symptoms in the first trimester,
which sometimes last into the second trimester. One of the most common symptoms
is nausea with or without vomiting. Some women also notice an increase in back
As the
pregnancy progresses, the uterus and baby put more strain on the body. Women
may develop back pain from this added strain, or from the weight gain that
occurs during pregnancy. Later in pregnancy, some women experience nausea due
to pressure on the organs from the uterus.
Nausea and
back pain during pregnancy can be annoying and exhausting but do not usually
signal a serious problem. However, in the second or third trimester, some women
develop a liver condition called cholestasis.
symptoms of cholestasis include:
  • nausea or
    loss of appetite
  • pain in the
    upper right portion of the stomach
  • dark colored
  • yellow eyes
    or skin
  • stomach pain
    that radiates to the back

The most
common and noticeable symptom of cholestasis is itching. Women who have very
itchy skin along with a backache or nausea should call their healthcare

When back
pain and nausea occur at the same time, it can be unpleasant or even
these symptoms will go away on their own. If they do not, it is important to
see a doctor, as they can occur in both severe and minor conditions.
It is
especially important not to ignore nausea that lasts for several days,
especially if there are other symptoms.
reviewed by Kevin Martinez, MD

Written by Zawn Villines

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.