Symptoms of Heartburn: Back Pain

By Michelle Bell

  • Overview

    Heartburn, one of the most prominent symptoms of acid reflux, is often accompanied by a variety of pain symptoms in the throat, chest, mouth, neck and even the back. Back pain associated with heartburn is a result of the condition itself, and can only be relieved by treating the cause at its source.
  • Features

    Heartburn is caused by the reflux of stomach acid through the lower esophageal sphincter and into the esophagus, resulting in irritation and eventual harm to the throat. Acid stimulates nerve fibers that radiate pain through the upper body, and facilitates damage to soft tissues in the area if the condition is left untreated for too long. Back pain is one of many side effects of acid reflux, which include chest and throat pain, difficulty swallowing, the feeling of a lump in the back of the throat, an acidic taste in the mouth and chronic coughing.
  • Identification

    Although back pain can be caused by many factors unrelated to heartburn and acid reflux, it is possible to tell when heartburn is the likely culprit. Heartburn-related pain usually manifests as pressure, soreness or a sharp ache in the upper and middle back, while lower back pain is more indicative of other digestive or abdominal problems. However, those with severe cases of heartburn may experience pain all over the back and shoulders. Alternate causes of back pain, such as injury or arthritis, must be eliminated from possibility first. The most trustworthy way to tell if back pain is related to heartburn symptoms is to have other causes ruled out by a doctor.


  • Time Frame

    Heartburn and reflux-related back pain usually occur within hours of a heartburn episode. Back pain can also occur as a result from other side effects of acid reflux, like chronic coughing, which causes pain from the repeated strain on back muscles. Heartburn-related asthma and other breathing problems have the same result, because the forced expansion of the chest cavity causes muscle fatigue. Many heartburn sufferers also experience back pain after sleeping flat on their backs, which allows stomach acid to flow from the dysfunctional lower esophageal sphincter into the esophagus and irritate the entire upper chest.
  • Prevention/Solution

    The back pain caused by heartburn and heartburn-related side effects may not respond to traditional painkillers or heat treatments, and can only be fully relieved by management of the heartburn itself. Mild, occasional heartburn is usually treated with antacids and herbal remedies, or the avoidance of foods that irritate the stomach and relax the lower esophageal sphincter. Spicy food, chocolate and caffeine are often not an option for heartburn sufferers. Chronic heartburn, which can be the result of an underlying digestive problem like too much acid in the stomach, is usually managed with a strict diet and the aid of proton pump inhibiting drugs that control acid production.
  • Considerations

    Chronic heartburn with back pain symptoms often goes hand-in-hand with other digestive disorders like gastroesophageal reflux disease and irritable bowel syndrome, or with injuries like hiatal hernia. Many people with heartburn have a long list of related abdominal problems like ulcers, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, slow digestion, fast digestion and colon pain, the root causes of which are not always obvious. Digestive disorders are difficult to diagnose, and are often misdiagnosed for years before a new solution is found. Sufferers may have a long road of trial and error ahead of them before their heartburn-related back pain can be fully relieved.
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