Back pain is often caused by muscle strain or arthritis in your spine, but it can also be a sign of a wide range of other causes. These causes may include pressure on the nerves in your spine, a kidney infection, cancer, or other serious health conditions. Back pain can even be a sign of a heart attack. Back pain can also spring up at the most unexpected times, while sitting or taking a step, or even after eating.

If you have back pain after eating, you may assume that the discomfort is related to a digestive problem. This could be the case, but it’s important to look at all your symptoms and any possible triggers for pain.

The back is often the site of referred pain. Referred pain is pain that you experience in a part of the body that is not the actual source of the discomfort. For example, a heart attack, which is a problem with blood flow to the heart muscle, can cause pain to radiate from the heart into the back and elsewhere.

Keep reading to learn more about possible causes for back pain after eating.

Ulcer and heartburn

Signs of digestive distress often include pains in your abdomen or reactions that include vomiting or diarrhea. Depending on the condition, however, you could feel pain in your back as well.

A peptic ulcer can cause referred pain in your back. This type of ulcer is a sore in your stomach or the small intestines. Typical symptoms include:

  • heartburn
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • gas

Ulcers can be mild or quite painful. For the more serious cases, pain can be felt in the back as well.

Heartburn is another digestive disorder that may cause pain in your back. Symptoms of heartburn caused by gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), include a burning sensation in the chest, a sour taste in the mouth, and pain the middle of your back.

Posture

One of the most common causes of back pain is poor posture. If you sit hunched over your food during a meal, you may finish eating with soreness in your back. That same pain can develop if you’re hunched over your computer or if you maintain a slouched position most of the time.

Kidney infection

Your kidneys are situated near the muscles in the mid- to lower part of your back. When you have a kidney infection, one of the symptoms you may notice is back pain near one or both of your kidneys. Other symptoms, such as more frequent urination, a burning sensation when urinating, and abdominal pain are also often present. A kidney infection is a potentially serious health problem and should be treated promptly.

Heart attack

Back pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Other warning signs of a cardiac event include:

  • chest pain
  • pain in your neck, jaw, or arm
  • nausea
  • feeling lightheaded
  • breaking into a sweat

Women are more likely than men to have non-traditional heart attack symptoms, such as back and neck pain.

If back pain is your only symptom and you suspect it’s caused by muscle strain, you can try rest and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), as long as your doctor has told you it’s ok to take this type of medication, and see if you feel better in a few days. If the pain persists for a week or more, or gets increasingly worse, then see a doctor.

If you have other symptoms along with back pain, you should consider seeing a doctor. This is particularly true if you notice changes in urine, indicating a kidney problem, or tarry stools, which could mean an ulcer or other serious condition.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) or bladder infection can progress to a kidney infection, so it’s always best to get a diagnosis and treatment if these conditions are present. Likewise, an ulcer can raise your risk of internal bleeding, so responding soon to symptoms is always a good idea.

When back pain is accompanied by pain running down one or both legs, it’s usually caused by a nerve in your spine that’s being irritated. You should see your doctor if you have these symptoms. They can recommend a variety of non-invasive or invasive treatments.

The usual treatment for a sore back includes rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory painkillers. A musculoskeletal problem, such as a ruptured disc, arthritis, or inflamed muscles and tendons may also be treated with physical therapy. In physical therapy, you’ll learn various stretching and strengthening exercises to help support and stabilize your spine. Physical therapy, as well as yoga and tai chi, can also help improve your posture.

When the pain is the result of other underlying health problems, treatments will vary considerably. Antibiotics are necessary to treat a kidney infection. Antibiotics may also be used to treat ulcers if there’s a bacterial infection present. Other ulcer and GERD medications include drugs that are used to block or reduce stomach acid production.

Most causes of back pain can be managed, if not permanently cured. Regular exercise, maintaining a good posture, and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent back problems.

Back pain after eating is likely caused by referred pain. Pay attention to other symptoms that may help your doctor diagnose your condition.

If your back pain is caused by GERD or ulcers, you may need to make lifestyle adjustments. Those can include changes to your diet, reducing your weight, exercise, or medications. You should be able to maintain a good quality of life and limit the pain in your back and elsewhere with treatment and lifestyle changes.

If the cause of your back pain is related to posture or muscle strain, prevention will come down to keeping your back muscles strong and flexible. If you participated in physical therapy, you should continue to do the exercises and stretches that you learned. Activities such as yoga and tai chi may also help with posture, muscle toning, and flexibility.

Preventing heartburn and ulcer complications in the future may come down to simply avoiding foods that trigger those reactions. Greasy, fatty, and spicy foods may have to be avoided or kept to a minimum. Acidic and caffeinated beverages also negatively impact some people with GERD. You may also need to avoid or limit alcohol consumption.