Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain? Know The Connection

by Will Bozeman

Lifestyle factors and daily habits are profoundly intertwined with our mental and physical health. And, when it comes down to easing chronic pain and boosting overall health, hydration can be as impactful as nutrition and exercise.

Poor hydration can lead to a cascade of complications and detrimental effects, including fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, and low blood pressure. Dehydration can also be the root cause of your back pain

Understanding the real underlying cause of your back pain can free you of taking pain medications daily and guide you in the choice of an effective treatment. At Neuragenex, our whole-person approach can help you identify and address the source of your back pain, so you can lay the foundations of long-lasting spinal health.

Dehydration And Back Pain

The human body is composed of 60% of water, the vital fluid needed for essential bodily functions, cellular processes, and chemical reactions. Drinking enough water replenishes the fluids lost through sweating, breathing, and waste removal. Hydration also supports your body’s metabolism, prevents overheating, and keeps the skin supple, healthy, and youthful

Dehydration – or the process of losing water faster than the rate at which you are able to replenish it – can significantly hinder these essential functions and cause a range of complications. In particular, dehydration can be one of the root causes of back pain. 

The spine is composed of 33 vertebrae, which are interlocking bones responsible for enabling the spine’s range of movement. Between each of these bones is located a soft cushioning structure known as intervertebral disc. These discs play an essential role in:

  • Absorbing shock while walking, running, or jumping
  • Distributing and balancing loads during movements
  • Keeping the spine mobile
  • Safeguarding the spinal bones from friction and shock damage

The intervertebral discs are composed mostly of water. This allows them to create the hydrostatic pressure necessary to counteract the compressive force the spine is exposed to at any given time. 

In a healthy spine, the water content of each disc declines throughout the day due to gravity and pressure, and it is then replaced while we sleep, through a process known as intradiscal fluid exchange. 

However, dehydration or hypohydration (having sustained low levels of hydration) can prevent the discs from accessing the water needed to retain their size, remain supple, and counteract the impact of external forces and loads. 

When this happens, the lack of cushioning exposes the spine’s bone to friction and shock damage. Irritation of tissues can lead to inflammation, swelling, and pain, which prevent you from moving your spine as you should. 

In severe cases, poor hydration can cause the outer ring of the intervertebral disc to dry out and crack, which can lead to painful conditions such as disc tears or bulging and herniated discs.

Dehydration can also cause several other effects that can worsen your back pain. For example, hypohydration can increase pain sensitivity, making you experience painful sensations more intensely. Low hydration can also cause the muscles in the spine to become stiffer, which inhibits your range of movement and leads to painful muscle spasms. 

If your back pain is associated with your menstrual cycle, hypohydration can intensify painful sensations and lower your pain threshold during critical phases such as menstruation.

Signs And Symptoms Of Dehydration

Given the impact of dehydration on your musculoskeletal and spinal health, it is critical to take steps to prevent dehydration and hypohydration – starting with learning to recognize the signs of this condition.

Common symptoms of dehydration include the following: 

  • Headaches: One of the first symptoms of dehydration is head and neck pain. This symptom occurs when the water content around the brain declines, causing the brain to shrink and pull away from the skull. Dehydration can also stiffen the neck muscles and lead to tension-like headaches
  • Bad breath: Not drinking enough water can hinder the production of saliva in the mouth. Without enough saliva, the mouth tends to dry out, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to live and multiply. This leads to halitosis – or bad breath. 
  • Dark urine: When there is not enough water in the body, the processes responsible for expelling waste, such as urination, are inhibited. So, when you are dehydrated, you may go to the bathroom less often and your urine may be dark and smelly. 
  • Fatigue: Water is essential to the cellular processes responsible for breaking down nutrients and using or storing energy. When you are dehydrated, your cells are unable to produce energy, which leads to fatigue, tiredness, dizziness, and lightheadedness. 
  • Muscle cramps: Muscle cramps are the result of dehydration-induced muscle stiffness. Additionally, according to a 2019 study, drinking water after suffering dehydration dilutes sodium and electrolyte concentrations, which make muscles more prone to cramping. 
  • Dehydrated skin: Dehydration is the root cause of several skin conditions, including dry skin, itchy patches, and scaling. Inadequate water consumption can also worsen disorders such as psoriasis, make fine lines more visible, reduce the skin’s elasticity, and give your complexion a dull appearance. 

Dehydrated skin isn’t the same as dry skin, which occurs when the skin does not produce enough natural oils. 

  • Vision problems: When the eyes aren’t properly lubricated, you may suffer from conditions such as dry eyes, blurry vision, double vision, tired eyes, and headaches. These symptoms should only be temporary and improve with hydration. 

Dehydration can cause several other symptoms, including irritability, mood swings, and fever. If you have noticed one or more of these symptoms, you should consider rehydrating immediately and restoring healthy levels of water content throughout the body.

Hydration Can Cause the Discs to Lose Water

So, what happens to the spinal discs when you are not drinking enough water? As seen above, dehydration can cause tissues throughout the body to shrink and stiffen. A similar effect occurs in the intervertebral discs in the spine. 

The cushioning discs between the vertebrae are composed of two parts:

  • The annulus fibrosus. This is the outer ring of the disc, made of multiple layers of stronger cartilaginous fiber. 
  • The nucleus pulposus. This is the core of the disc, made of a softer, gel-like substance. 

When healthy, 80-85% of the nucleus pulposus is made of water. This water content is dispersed during the day as the spine supports movements and absorbs shock and pressure. However, while we sleep, the discs regain all the lost water content, increasing the body’s height by as much as 0.5 inches (1.3 cm) by the morning. 

However, prolonged dehydration can prevent the discs from replenishing their water content, which can leave the spinal bones and surrounding tissues unprotected against shock and friction damage. 

When the water content of the nucleus pulposus reaches 70-75%, the spine can experience severe degeneration and permanent alteration of its ability to deal with loads and pressure.

Indicators Of A Dehydrated Disc

Learning to recognize the signs that you may be dehydrated can help you rehydrate as soon as possible and prevent health complications. But it’s just as important to be able to identify whether your back pain derives from low levels of hydration. 

After all, without truly understanding what’s causing your condition, you may be taking pain medications that are inefficient at best – and dangerous at worst. 

Educating yourself on the signs that your back pain is caused by dehydration is key to avoiding exposing yourself to side effects such as gastrointestinal problems, increased risk of stroke or heart attack, and addiction. These are some of the symptoms to watch out for:  

  • Extreme pain in the lower back: Prolonged dehydration prevents the intervertebral discs from replenishing their water content. This causes them to dry out and become more prone to tearing and cracking. These injuries, which can develop into herniated and bulging discs, can lead to severe back pain. 
  • Numbness in the legs: Tingling sensations and numbness in the legs is the result of two complications of dehydration. Firstly, low levels of hydration can cause a drop in sodium levels, which can cause “pin and needles” sensations. 

Additionally, if the intervertebral discs start thinning, drying out, or bulging they can start adding pressure to the nerve roots in the spine. This can damage the nerves and interfere with the normal transmission of sensory signals to the brain, which results in numbness. 

  • Bulging in the spinal area: Without enough hydration, the outer ring of each intervertebral disc can crack, making herniated discs more likely. When the gel-like core of the disc seeps out of the outer ring, you’ll experience pain and a bulging in the spine caused by inflammation, irritation, and swelling. 

You may also experience mechanical stiffness, which occurs when drying intervertebral discs are unable to accommodate spinal movements. 

  • Shooting pain in the legs: Without enough fluids, muscles across the body are less able to relax after contractions. This makes painful cramps, spasms, and involuntary movements more likely, especially in the leg. Cramps caused by dehydration are painful, recurring, and can inhibit your balance and movement. 
  • Problems in pelvic area organs: Low levels of hydration concentrate the urine and inhibits the body’s processes necessary to expel waste. This translates into the accumulation of minerals in the bladder, irritation of the bladder’s internal lining, painful bladder syndrome, cystitis, and pelvic pain. 
  • Diminished or absent reflexes in the legs: The degeneration of spinal discs caused by sustained hydration can create mechanical problems in the spine. 

In particular, the spinal nerve root can come into contact with bones and other components of the spine during movements, which can result in irritation, nerve damage, and permanent back pain. A symptom that the spine in the nerves may be damaged is numbness or an absence of reflexes in the legs.

How To Stay Hydrated During The Day

Although dehydration can cause chronic back pain, this risk factor is easy to address and modify: all you need to do is to stay hydrated. If you are struggling to manage your water intake, these strategies can help:

  • Introduce more fresh fruit, raw vegetables, smoothies, freshly squeezed juices, and broths to your diet
  • Follow the official recommendations for water intake: drink at least 2 liters of water a day (or eight 8-ounce glasses).  
  • Avoid drinks such as coffee, tea, and soda. Beverages that contain sugar, caffeine, or artificial sweeteners contribute to dehydration. 
  • Adjust your water intake as needed. In hot weather, you’ll lose water much faster than normal through sweating. On these occasions, you should increase your water intake to 2.5 liters a day. 
  • When exercising, increase your water intake, make sure to rehydrate correctly after exercise, and choose water with added electrolytes. 
  • Make drinking water more enjoyable by choosing an appealing reusable water bottle and adding fresh fruit or herbs like mint to your drink. 
  • Track your hydration levels. You can do so by looking at the color of your urine: the clearer your urine is, the more hydrated you are. Alternatively, download a water-tracking app.

Last but not least, remember to drink before you are thirsty! Building a habit of sipping water throughout the day can help you stay hydrated effortlessly.

What If Increasing Hydration Levels Isn’t Enough?

If you have increased your water intake but the back pain persists, it is time to seek an accurate diagnosis for your condition and identify the root cause of your chronic pain. After all, back pain can be the result of serious conditions like herniated discs, osteoarthritis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, kidney infection, muscle strains, obesity, and traumatic injury.

When partnering with the specialist at Neuragenex, you can pinpoint the exact cause of your back pain and obtain a personalized treatment program designed to improve your spinal health without medications or surgery. 

Here’s what to do if increasing hydration isn’t enough to stop your back pain.

Seek Medical Advice

The first step is always to talk to a specialized healthcare professional. Specialists such as orthopedists, rheumatologists, and neurologists can help you obtain a comprehensive clinical picture of your spinal health and determine what’s causing your back pain.

Undergo Diagnostic Procedures

When you are under the care of a specialist, you’ll undergo a wide range of diagnostic procedures aimed at identifying the reason for your back pain. These procedures include:

  • A review of the nature, pattern, and location of your symptoms
  • An evaluation of your medical history and conditions that run in your family (i.e.: arthritis)
  • A thorough physical exam that involves assessing your pain level, range of motion, and ability to move your muscles. 
  • Imaging tests such as X-rays and MRI scans, which offer a visual representation of your spine. These tests are used to determine mechanical problems and abnormalities, such as tumors. 
  • A complete blood count that aims to highlight possible causes of back pain, such as inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis. 
  • Tests of your neurological reflexes, strength, flexibility, and ability to feel pain and touch.

Consider Electroanalgesia For Pain Modulation 

If you have been struggling with chronic and debilitating back pain, the chances are that you are relying on medications in every aspect of your daily life. You might also have tried different lines of treatments that have proven themselves inefficient, or you are living in fear of surgery. 

Fortunately, with the Neurofunctional Pain Management program pioneered by Neuragenex, you can address your pain and restore your spinal health without invasive procedures, medications, or chiropractic manipulation. 

As part of a more comprehensive Neurofunctional Pain Management protocol, electroanalgesia uses high frequency electrical pulses to inhibit the transmission of pain signals traveling from damaged areas in the spine to the brain. 

Additionally, the precise electrical pulses delivered through electroanlgesia can decrease inflammation, swelling, and redness, while also supporting the circulation of blood, nutrients, and oxygen. 

When used as part of a tailored whole-person approach that involves Lifestyle Counseling and IV Therapy, e-stim can provide long-lasting relief from pain while also promoting the body’s ability to heal damaged tissues.

Keep Your Spinal Health At Its Optimum Condition

Staying hydrated is a critical step to take to support your spinal health and overall well-being. But what if hydration isn’t enough? Neuragenex can help you access a customized program that uses non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, and non-chiropractic treatments to ease the symptoms of back pain. 

Through Neurofunctional Pain Management and electroanalgesia you can modify all of those factors that are negatively impacting on your spine and lay the foundations of long-term health.

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