Above: Woman eating a balanced meal, other fruit and veggies on the cutting board next to her. Eating her meal with a companion, possible back pain after eating.
Back pain can be extremely debilitating, limiting, and inconvenient to say the least. If you have experienced it for yourself, you’d probably agree with this to some degree. While the root cause can vary from one person to the next, the immediate etiology may be unclear (unless if due to specific physical trauma or event). Here, we will review possible reasons for back pain after eating.
Back Pain Brief Overview
Back pain itself is one of the most common reasons people make a clinic or emergency room visit. Furthermore, chronic lower back pain affects approximately 23% of the world’s adult population with as much as 80% experiencing an episode at least once in their lifetime. Because of this staggering statistic, about 200 billion dollars are spent a year on this condition!
Potential Reasons for Back Pain
- mechanical (most common)
- non-related but perceived as back pain (such as kidney infection or gallbladder inflammation)
Back Pain After Eating: Possible Causes
Unless you can link your postprandial back pain to another preexisting condition, there are many possibilities as to what may be causing back pain after eating. It’s still important for your medical provider to note things like your health history and physical assessment when whittling down your list of causes.
Without diagnostic testing to confirm, most back pain cases are assumed to be mechanical in nature. This means something is off when it comes to posture, coordination, movement, or body alignment. Bad posture while having a meal in combination with chronically incorrect body mechanics can result in back pain after eating. Imagine sitting hunched over for a prolonged period of time - leading to back discomfort once getting up from your chair. This might manifest as stiffness or muscle tension.
Above: Quadratus lumborum muscle, or QL, left and right pictured. Muscles associated with posture and posterior abdominal wall/back. Muscles possibly affected from back pain after eating due to poor body mechanics.
Inflammation or Infection
Kidney infections, pancreatitis, gallbladder stones/inflammation and even ulcers can all exacerbate existing back pain or simply manifest as such (also called referred pain). If a digestive organ becomes inflamed, it can cause localized abdominal or back pain after eating (read here for more on upper left back pain).
- Kidney infection pain (although not limited to only after meals) is felt in the lower back and may increase in severity after eating. The same goes if you have chronic kidney disease (CKD) - consuming a high sodium meal can lead to swelling or edema. If you tend to experience edema in your sacral or lumbar region, discomfort may ensue. It is common for CKD patients to retain excess fluid within body tissues and this sometimes leads to discomfort, aches or tenderness.
- Pancreatitis (although, often linked to a history of alcohol consumption) is similar in that it plays a role in digestion and can also show up as back pain after eating. Whether this inflammatory condition is chronic or acute, the discomfort is normally felt in the upper abdomen and may spread or radiate to your back area as well.
- Gallbladder stones (cholelithiasis) can basically block the bile duct which would then lead to inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis). This does, however, require diagnostic imaging (ultrasound) and if discomfort is present, it shows up as upper right abdominal pain - sometimes traveling to the right scapula or upper back. Consuming fatty foods
- Gastroesophageal disease (GERD) can encompass symptoms such as (but not limited to) heartburn, sore throat, gas, nausea after meals and even stabbing sternal pain that travels to the back. This is due to stomach acid basically flowing back into esophageal area. While the radiating back pain is not commonplace with GERD, it has been noted in some severe cases.
(It’s important to note that this list is not all-inclusive and know when to seek professional medical help. Read more on what will they do in the emergency room for severe back pain.)
Possible Solutions for Back Pain After Eating
If your back pain after eating can be linked to a type of food or your current diet, this may be the easiest approach to take. Spicy foods can trigger GERD or heartburn while fatty foods may set off a gallbladder attack. Starting a food journal to raise your dietary awareness can help with keeping track and keep you accountable.
Paying attention to posture and your body mechanics throughout the day (and during meals) can help with any back discomfort as well. If you feel your pain is not connected to diet, strengthening and stretching your back can benefit you in the long run. Doing exercises to reinforce lower back muscles, such as the quadratus lumborum, can contribute to better posture and improved body mechanics.
Additionally, if the origin is mechanical in nature, taking (prescription) medication as it relates to any preexisting conditions can help with the discomfort, however, undiagnosed pain should not be treated with medication alone. See the following section on red flags for back pain after eating and when to see a doctor.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If your back pain after eating does not improve and occurs along with some of the following symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible to make sure no further complications emerge.
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- changes in bowel movement characteristics (black stool)
- painful urination
Back Pain After Eating Conclusion
As with most health conditions, hopefully, you can find improvement by staying informed and making the necessary interventions. We also have a post on "Why Does My Upper Back Hurt When I Breathe?" By having a comprehensive and whole body approach, it helps to know when to resolve an issue with your own knowledge or when to get medical help. Unless you have something more serious going on, sometimes a little trial and error may be necessary. Check out the following articles and resources to help you towards a back pain free life!
 Pham, P.C., Khiang, K., Sievers, T.M., Pham, P.M., Miller, J.M., Pham, S.V., Pham, P.A., Pham, P.T., 2017 Update on pain management in patients with chronic kidney disease. Clinical Kidney Journal, 2017.
 Symptoms & causes of pancreatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. www.niddk.nih.gov.
 Bobe-Armant, F., Buil-Arasanz, M.E., Trubat-Munoz, G., Llor-Vila, C., Vicente-Guillen, V. Cholelithiasis presented as chronic right back pain. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 2014
 Leonard, J., Why do I get a pain in my back after eating? Medical News Today, 2023. Casiano, V., Sarwan, G., Dydyk, A.M., Varacallo, M., Back pain. Stat Pearls Publishing, 2023.