Is Alcohol Causing My Back Pain?

Friends having drinks

Lower back pain and back spasms can have many causes. Could one of them be alcohol? Learn more:

Lower back pain is one of the most common orthopedic complaints with 25 percent of Americans reporting experiences of lower back pain in the past three months, according to one CDC. Causes of this pain range from the strain of lifting heavy objects to a sporting injury. Arthritis, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal), or a herniated disc can also cause persistent back pain or specifically back spasms. 

Back spasms are involuntary contractions and tightening of the back muscles that cause minor aches to sharp pains that impair your mobility. While there are many possible causes for back spasms, there’s one that not many people have considered: alcohol. Although studies have yet to show a definitive link between alcohol and back pain, drinking can affect lower back muscles to the point where you feel discomfort. Let’s examine the possible connection between alcohol and lower back spasms to see if your nightly cocktail might be interfering with your comfort.

How Alcohol Can Affect Your Back

In general, moderate alcohol consumption isn’t harmful. When combined with healthy eating and exercise, a moderate amount of alcohol may even prevent chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic

But what is moderate drinking? The Mayo Clinic defines moderate alcohol consumption as two glasses of an alcoholic beverage per day for men and one for women. That drink could be a 12-ounce glass of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits. If you stay within those parameters, your alcohol consumption is unlikely to be harming your back.

However, excessive drinking could be damaging to your lower back if you aren’t careful. That’s because alcohol saps your body of the moisture it needs to keep your muscles smooth and flexible. When your body isn’t getting enough water, it steals it from your muscles, and dehydrated muscles tend to tense up, leading to spasms

How does that process work? Well, alcohol depresses the amount of vasopressin in your body. Vasopressin, which is created in your pituitary gland, controls water levels in your body. When it comes to your back, heavy drinking can reduce the amount of water in the intervertebral discs between the vertebrae of your spine. These discs prevent the bones of the spine from rubbing together. They also keep the vertebrae from irritating nearby nerves — a common cause of back pain. Dehydrated discs create friction between the bones, resulting in lower back spasms. So if you already suffer from degenerative disc disease, alcohol may worsen the pain. 

Treating Lower Back Pain Safely

When you first experience back pain, you may want to reach for pain medication. If you’ve been drinking alcohol, it’s critical that you don’t take one of those medications. Although alcohol can have an analgesic effect, mixing a drink with an over-the-counter pain reducer (Tylenol, aspirin) or an opiate can lead to serious health consequences, including gastric bleeding, liver damage, or potentially even an overdose.

If you’re experiencing persistent lower back pain, an orthopedist can diagnose the source of your pain and prescribe the best treatment options. These will most likely include physical therapy and other conservative methods such as a program of icing and heat, medical massage, or trigger point injections.

As with any medical condition, the best treatment option is prevention. To keep your lower back pain-free, change your position frequently if you sit or stand all day and add more magnesium and calcium into your diet. Also make sure to stretch before and after you exercise to keep your muscles limber. 

When it comes to drinking, you can still indulge in alcohol, just stay aware and careful. Track how many drinks you have had and alternate between an alcoholic beverage and a glass of water to lower the level of alcohol in your body and keep your muscles hydrated. You can also try low-alcohol options, such as light beer or low alcohol wine. Your body — and your back — will be sure to thank you the next day!

Help Your Back Feel Better Today

Back pain can be anything from a nuisance to a debilitating condition. But you don’t have to live with the pain. The specialists at New York Bone & Joint Specialists are trained to diagnose and treat a variety of back conditions, including back spasms. Contact us today for an appointment so you can start feeling your best.

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