Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?

The science behind dehydration's role in back pain and additional tips to stay hydrated.


Your body is made up of more than 50% water, and when you become dehydrated, you experience many negative side effects. The symptoms of dehydration can include headaches, dizziness, and fainting.

Dehydration can even be the cause of back pain.

How Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?

Every system in your body, from your organs and muscles, your blood and skin, to your brain and spine, is affected by how much water you consume.

Dehydration is when your body loses more fluids than it needs to function. Under those conditions, your body reacts by storing water for the most vital organs, including your heart and lungs, and that means less vital parts of your body will not get the water they need.

When you don't drink enough, your body doesn't perform to its highest potential. The lack of water in your diet can have more serious results, including back pain.

Most people understand you’re supposed to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated, but studies have shown that up to 75% of Americans live with chronic dehydration.

This is caused by several factors, including drinking too many soft drinks containing sugar, choosing tea and coffee containing caffeine when thirsty, consuming too much salt in the diet, and simply not realizing how much water your body needs.

Most of us drink water when we're thirsty. The problem with this habit is that you’re already mildly dehydrated by the time you feel thirsty.

If you’re not drinking enough water, you may be wondering how dehydration can cause back pain? You’re about to discover the link between dehydration and back pain.

How Does Dehydration Cause Back Pain?

Your back is home to the vertebral column, made up of bones supporting your body and protecting the spinal cord inside. 

In between each bone, or vertebra, is an intervertebral disc. Each disc is filled with a gelatinous substance which allows your vertebral column to be flexible. The spinal discs cushion the blow of everyday activities such as walking and running.

The jelly-like substance filling each of your spinal discs is made up of almost 75% water. These small discs that make up your spine are the link between dehydration and low back pain.

How the Spinal Discs Lose Water

You can lose up to half an inch in height from morning tonight as water is slowly released from your spinal discs throughout the day. Your spinal discs will rehydrate while you sleep, so you’re back to your normal height when you wake up.

Dehydration can make this water loss more pronounced, resulting in less shock absorption while you move through your day—the lack of cushioning causes back pain. As the gelatinous material inside your spinal discs loses water, they cannot support the weight of your body, causing the discs to collapse. As the discs collapse, even only slightly, it puts pressure on sensitive spinal nerves.

If you're not drinking enough water and become dehydrated, the discs start shrinking. When your spinal discs aren’t well hydrated, they can’t protect or support your spine the way they should. 

Excessive stress on your spine may cause painful swelling and herniated discs. Your lower back pain due to dehydration, and even neck and leg pain, can be helped by drinking more water. Similarly, there are links between dehydration and muscle pain.

What are the Signs of Dehydration?

There are many signs of dehydration. If you often notice these symptoms, you may be dehydrated.

  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dark urine
  • Dry skin
  • Muscle cramps
  • Bad breath
  • Dry mouth
  • Frequent thirst
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Irritability
  • Fever

Notice the Color of Your Urine

The color of your urine is a key indicator of whether your body is well hydrated. Urine is a byproduct of the body’s waste removal system, extracting toxins and other waste from your bloodstream and kidneys.

Darker urine is a sign of dehydration. Your urine will be pale yellow or almost clear when you're healthy and hydrated.

You'll have plenty of chances to observe the color of your urine because drinking more water means more trips to the bathroom. As your body adjusts to the increased hydration, the frequency will even out.

How to Stay Hydrated and Avoid Dehydration & Back Pain

The good news is that drinking more water can help you avoid back pain, dehydration, and muscle pain.

Drink more water to avoid dehydration and back pain

Drink More Water

Though there is no one rule on exactly how much water we should be drinking, a good starting point is to aim for 6-8 cups of water each day, and this is a general guideline for a person of average weight and in good health.

Increase this amount when exercising, doing physical labor, playing sports, or spending time outdoors on a hot or humid day. In those conditions, your body loses more water, which needs to be replenished regularly.

If you still experience thirst at this level of daily water consumption, drink more. If you're overweight, you'll need to drink more. In time, you'll discover the right amount for you. If you drink little water now, the first aim is to double it. Then go for 4 cups of water per day, and continue increasing until you're in the 6-8 cups range, no longer feel thirsty often, and your urine is a pale yellow color.

Tips to Help You Hydrate

With consistency, drinking water will become a healthy habit, and you’ll find it easier to stay hydrated. Try different ideas until you find what works for you.

  • Add fresh fruit, natural flavors, lemon, or mint to your water 
  • Try coconut water, especially when you’re exercising or otherwise exerting
  • Eat more raw vegetables and fruits daily, as they’re a great source of water
  • Choose a reusable water bottle you love, and keep it filled with fresh water
  • Try a water tracking app on your phone or set a timer to remind you to hydrate
  • Buy a bottle marked with water goals to motivate you to keep drinking
  • Consider a water filter or water cooler system, if your tap water tastes bad
  • Seltzers, flavored waters, and herbal teas count towards total water consumption but aim to drink a few cups of regular water daily

If you don't like drinking water, it can seem challenging to make these changes. But it is possible to end dehydration and back pain.

The great thing about drinking more water to solve your back pain caused by dehydration is there are so many other benefits. Your new habits will also benefit your heart, kidney, muscles, hair, and skin. You may also notice more energy, focus, and concentration.

If dehydration and back pain is regularly causing you discomfort, contact your doctor or chiropractor for an appointment. 

About the Author

Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

About Carex Health Brands

Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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