Multiple types of hernias can cause back pain, including abdominal hernias and spinal hernias. Treatment can depend on the location and severity.
Noticed some pain and maybe a strange bulge, perhaps in your abdomen or in your groin, that wasn’t there before? You might have a hernia.
When part of an organ begins to poke through a gap or weakness in the layers of muscle or other tissues that surround it and protect it, you’ve developed a hernia. They can occur in a number of different places in your body, and depending on the severity, they can cause pain and discomfort.
But the pain isn’t always contained solely in the area of the hernia. Sometimes you might experience some pain in your back, too. Learn more about what causes this back pain and what you can do about it.
There are several different kinds of hernias, including:
The most common kind of abdominal hernia is the inguinal hernia, which typically occurs when part of your small intestine begins to push through a weak section of the abdominal wall near the groin.
These hernias can be present at birth or develop over time. They’re more common in men than in women. The tissue or intestine also can poke through a weakened area into the scrotum.
Most people feel pain or pressure in the immediate area, but they can also experience pain in their mid or lower back. However, it’s not always easy to determine whether the hernia is the cause of the back pain.
If you just have lower back pain without any other symptoms, another condition could be responsible. But if you have a bulge in your lower abdomen or groin, along with some pain, it may be a hernia, and the hernia could be causing this additional pain.
A spinal hernia is also called a herniated disc, slipped disc, prolapsed disc, and ruptured disc.
This condition develops when the gel-like substance inside the discs that cushion between each one of the bones in your vertebrae begins to squeeze out the side through a weakened area of the disc’s outer band.
Because the spinal canal is narrow, the slipped disc often puts pressure on a spinal nerve, which causes pain in your back. Sometimes, people will experience some numbness or tingling.
A herniated disc is similar in principle to an abdominal hernia: something within is trying to get out, and the result is pain. But the location differs, and so does the substance that’s trying to migrate beyond its usual boundaries.
With an abdominal hernia, a structure inside the abdominal cavity pushes through a weakened area of muscle or other tissue in your abdominal wall to create a bulge or a lump.
But with a herniated disc, that gelatinous substance in the middle of the disc squeezes out through a weakness or rupture in the tough outer edge of the disc.
Herniation can occur in any disc in any part of your spine. The most common site for a herniated disc is the lower back.
If it doesn’t press on a nerve, you might only experience a mild backache in your lower back.
But sometimes the disc ruptures and puts pressure on one or more lumbar nerve roots that come together to become your sciatic nerve, which is a very long nerve that runs through your hips and buttocks and down your legs.
Then, you may need to brace for some serious pain and discomfort that radiates from your low back to your buttocks, legs, and calves. This radiating pain is known as radiculopathy.
According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), you could develop radiculopathy in your lower back.
A very rare condition called a lumbar triangle hernia develops when tissue creates a lesion in the flank, and it can also cause back pain.
One very small study noted that low back pain can be a presenting symptom for a lumbar triangle hernia, but it can be a very challenging diagnosis to make. Other research notes that there are fewer than 300 cases detailed in scientific literature.
It’s not always possible to tell if a hernia is causing your back pain, which is why healthcare professionals typically urge people to get checked out.
Symptoms of a spinal hernia
The position of the affected disc, as well as the size of the herniation, will affect the symptoms that you experience, according to the AANS. The pain doesn’t always stay localized to the site of the slipped disc.
The pain sometimes extends beyond your neck or lower back, too. It might radiate down your arms or down your legs, typically in the areas to which the nerve travels.
The pain might get worse after you stand up or sit down or move in a particular way. If you develop radiculopathy, the resulting pain might be mild, but it can also be severe, with some people describing the pain as feeling sharp or electric.
There may come a time when you need to get medical attention for your hernia. Usually it’s when you’ve gotten to the point where you can’t tolerate the pain any longer, or it’s preventing you from being able to carry out your normal activities of daily living.
Depending on the type of hernia, a doctor might suggest starting with a nonsurgical treatment. For example, you might be able to manage the pain of a herniated disc with a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). But it’s possible that down the road, you might need surgery.
If you develop any of these symptoms, don’t wait to make an appointment. Go to an emergency room if you experience:
- severe or worsening pain
- trouble having a bowel movement
- urinary incontinence or retention
- abdominal bloating
- racing heart rate
- nausea and vomiting
Women are more likely to experience emergency complication as a result of an inguinal hernia, and they often require surgery to repair this kind of hernia. So that’s another incentive to seek care right away.
In some cases, you might do just fine with pain-relieving medications and the passage of time. In other cases, a doctor may suggest a surgical repair to fix the problem and hopefully free you from pain in the future.
If you have an abdominal hernia, you may indeed need surgical repair.
If you have a herniated disc, your doctor might start with a conservative approach first by recommending pain relieving medications, along with physical therapy.
The nonsurgical approach works to improve the pain and other symptoms for the vast majority of people with herniated discs–about 9 out of 10 times, according to the AANS.
If you suspect you have developed a hernia, either due to a bulge in a new location or some aches and pains in your back that just won’t go away, see a healthcare professional.
Depending on the cause and the location of the hernia, you may need to discuss treatment.