The solar plexus — also called the celiac plexus — is a complex system of radiating nerves and ganglia. It’s found in the pit of the stomach in front of the aorta. It’s part of the sympathetic nervous system.
It plays an important role in the functioning of the stomach, kidneys, liver, and adrenal glands.
Illustration by Pichamon Chamroenrak
A number of different conditions can lead to solar plexus pain. They can range from physical conditions to emotional ones.
Anxiety is a common cause of solar plexus pain. The solar plexus is tied to the adrenal glands and the lungs. The fight-or-flight response to stress can result in poor breathing.
This can lead to pain or other gastric symptoms like nausea or vomiting during episodes of anxiety. Other symptoms of anxiety can include:
- a fast heartbeat
Acid reflux and other gastric issues
Symptoms of acid reflux can include:
- bad breath when waking up
- having a sore throat
- trouble swallowing
A telltale symptom of stomach ulcers can include a gnawing pain that gets worse after eating.
Pulled muscles can be a painful cause of solar plexus pain. This can happen in the gym or during normal day-to-day activity. If an abdominal muscle gets pulled, additional symptoms may include swelling, redness, or bruising. Pain typically gets worse when moving.
Trauma isn’t a very common cause of solar plexus pain, but it’s more detectable. It can lead to injury of the blood vessels or other internal structures. This will occur after a direct impact or blow to the area.
Diabetes can lead to nerve damage. This affects the solar plexus nerve system and the vagus nerve. Additional symptoms of diabetes include:
- needing to urinate frequently
- persistent infections or bruises that take longer than normal to heal
- high blood sugar
- tingling in the hands or feet
Sometimes asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory disorders can result in pain of the solar plexus area due to difficulty breathing. Poor breathing can result in the stomach and abdomen receiving an inadequate supply of oxygen, triggering a stress response. Symptoms may include persistent coughing or wheezing.
Pancreatitis or pancreatic cancer (or other cancers that have spread) can lead to intense solar plexus pain quickly. Other symptoms include:
- abdominal tenderness
Other potential causes of solar plexus pain include:
- nerve damage
- organ failure
- gaining weight very quickly or being overweight
- frequent use of medications, particularly painkillers
See your doctor if you experience pain in the solar plexus area that hasn’t gone away after one week. Make an appointment right away if you think you may have diabetes or are experiencing severe pain. It could be related to conditions like pancreatitis.
If you’re experiencing severe abdominal pain after a physical blow or trauma, seek immediate emergency medical attention.
The treatment of your solar plexus pain will depend on its underlying cause.
When you first experience solar plexus pain, there are several home remedies that may work to relieve your discomfort. Here are some to try:
- To treat pain, apply a heating pad to the area, or take a warm bath.
- If there’s swelling, apply cold packs to the area.
- Rest and take a break from strenuous activity. Give yourself time to heal.
- Take ibuprofen (Advil) only if you know that you’ve pulled a muscle and are sure that ulcers or other digestive conditions aren’t involved. Ibuprofen can increase your risk for bleeding ulcers.
- If you believe an upset stomach is the reason for the pain, eat a bland diet, like the BRAT diet.
- Take antacids to help reduce stomach acid and soothe an upset stomach.
- Try breathing exercises. These can also relax the nervous system and soothe anxiety.
If your symptoms persist or if you have an underlying condition, your doctor can provide more treatment options. They’ll first seek to treat the underlying condition, but they may offer solutions for pain management, too. This may include low doses of painkillers for a short period of time while you heal.
If your pain is persistent, your doctor may recommend a celiac plexus block. This is an injection of pain medication in the form of an anesthetic. It can relieve severe abdominal pain by blocking the nerves.
During this procedure, your doctor will first give you a sedative to relax you. You’ll then lie on your stomach on an X-ray machine. After your doctor numbs your back with a local anesthetic, they’ll use the X-ray to guide a thin needle to the affected area to insert the anesthetic medication. They’ll use dye to ensure that the medication reaches the correct spot.
The effectiveness of a celiac plexus block varies. Some people experience relief for only weeks, while others experience relief for years. Some may also need continued injections to reach the full benefits of this treatment. This can be done in as little as two injections or as many as 10.
The outlook for people experiencing solar plexus pain depends heavily on the cause. Many minor causes of the pain will resolve within a week or so as the underlying condition heals. Some pain will be persistent, particularly in cases where nerve damage or cancer is at fault. In these cases, a celiac plexus block may be needed.
It’s possible to prevent some cases and causes of solar plexus pain. Methods of prevention include:
- Exercise regularly, but carefully. Doing so can prevent injuries. Exercise can also improve digestion.
- Get enough rest. This is particularly true after physical activity to help your body heal.
- De-stress your life as much as possible. It can improve anxiety symptoms and some digestive problems.
- Eat multiple small meals instead of larger ones. This will improve digestion and can reduce bloating, gas, and stomach pain. Walk after each meal to further aid digestion.
- Practice regular breathing exercises. They can soothe anxiety and ensure that your abdomen is getting the oxygen it needs.