Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?

Jan 12, 2022

If you’ve ever been dehydrated, you may recognize symptoms like dizziness, headaches, fatigue, or blurry vision as signs you need more water. But what about back pain? It’s true that dehydration can actually cause pain in the spine as your discs lose their hydration along with the rest of your body. Chronic dehydration can even lead to back problems that become chronic themselves. As back pain specialists, we want you to understand ways to prevent severe back problems in the future- including getting enough water!

Dehydration and the Spine

Between each set of vertebrae in your spine are small discs with a tough exterior and a gelatin-like center. These discs prevent the bones from rubbing against each other and help the spine to absorb shock. Both the inner and outer portions of the disc are made up of almost entirely water- in fact, at the end of a day where you aren’t hydrating, you may end up a half-inch shorter than you were in the morning! Throughout the day, these discs slowly release water, rehydrating themselves as you sleep. However, if you haven’t had enough water, they can’t rehydrate overnight.

If the discs are not properly hydrated, they can’t offer the same protection or support for your spine as they are meant to provide. The spine is then less able to absorb shock from everyday movements while also being more vulnerable to injury. Without the discs working properly, more stress is added to the spine that can ultimately lead to swelling or herniated discs.

Signs of Dehydration

The human body is almost 60% water and relies on it for breathing, digestion, and every basic bodily function. This water can be quickly lost during days where you may sweat from heat or vigorous activity, or things like a fever and diarrhea that cause excessive loss of fluids. If you are in a situation that could cause dehydration, be aware upfront and take precautions by drinking extra water.

Even a very small loss of water can lead to symptoms of dehydration. Some signs to look out for include:

  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Confusion
  • Anger
  • Dry eyes and/or blurry vision
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dark urine
  • Dry skin
  • Fever

There are two quick tests to help you determine if you are dehydrated: looking at your urine or checking your skin.

If your urine is light, you are likely well hydrated. If it is dark, you may need to drink more water.
You can also pinch the skin on top of your hand as a test. If the skin quickly goes back to normal, you are hydrated. If it slowly returns or stays pinched, this is a sign of dehydration.

Staying Hydrated

The general guideline experts give is to drink half your weight in fluid ounces per day. So, for example, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should drink 90 ounces of water per day. You don’t need to chug this water, but pace yourself throughout the day to get enough intake. If you wait until you are thirsty to drink all of your water, you may be in the beginning stages of dehydration already.

For those who struggle to drink enough water, below are some tips:

  • Invest in a water bottle you like and take it everywhere you go.
  • Add fruits and herbs to your water to change the flavor and make it more exciting.
  • Drink water before, during, and after a workout.
  • If you feel hungry, start with a glass of water. Thirst is often confused for hunger- if you do need food, the water will not satisfy you and you can then eat.
  • Set a schedule for yourself with designated times to drink water.
  • Always order water at a restaurant. As a bonus, it’s free!
  • For every other beverage you drink, have one glass of water.

It is very rare that a healthy adult can drink too much water in a day, so always err on the side of more than you think you need.

When to See a Doctor

If your back pain continues despite improving your hydration, visiting a back pain specialist is the next step. Some problems, like herniated discs, may persist even if you are rehydrated and not exacerbating the issue. At AICA Orthopedics, we will work with you to determine the root cause of your back pain and create a comprehensive treatment plan, focusing on your nutrition as well as your pain. Contact us today to address any back pain you may have!


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