Many people realize that their level of hydration can affect the way they feel and function throughout the day. A lack of fluids can make you sluggish, irritable, and off your game. But hydration also plays a critical role in how well (or not) you sleep at night. Understanding the impact of your daily fluid intake on your nighttime slumber will go a long way to improving the quality of your sleep.
- How Can You Tell If You’re Dehydrated?
- 6 Unusual Signs of Dehydration You Should Know About
- 1. Bad Breath Is a Possible Warning Sign of Dehydration
- 2. Dry or Flushed Skin Could Be a Symptom of Dehydration
- 3. Muscle Cramps Are a Dehydration Symptom, Likely From Heat Illness
- 4. Fever and Chills Are More Symptoms of Heat Illness, Which Causes Dehydration
- 5. Food Cravings, Especially for Sweets, May Just Mean You’re Thirsty
- 6. Headaches Could Be a Sign You Need to Drink More Water
- How to Tell if You’re Dehydrated or if It’s Something Else
- Tips for Staying Hydrated
- A Final Note on the Importance of Preventing Dehydration if You’re Elderly
- Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?
- Does dehydration cause back pain?
- What counts as back pain?
- What causes back pain?
- What happens in the spine during back pain?
- Can back pain be caused or worsened by dehydration?
- Cowbrough, K., & Lloyd, H. (2003). A measurement and comparison of the fluid intake in people with and without back pain. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 16(6), 403-409. doi:10.1046/j.1365-277x.2003.00476.x – This study compared fluid intake of patients with back pain and patients without pain. The authors found that those with back pain drank more water on average.
- WebMD. “Understanding back pain — symptoms”, Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, Jul 2017. – An accessible summary of the symptoms of back pain, including a discussion of when to contact a doctor.
- NHS. “Back pain, causes”, reviewed Jan 2017. – A brief overview of what causes back pain from the British National Health Service website.
- NHS. “Back pain, overview”, reviewed Jan 2017. – Another accessible description of back pain including when to see a doctor from the British National Health Service website.
- Spine Institute of North America. “How dehydration affects your spine and back”. – This article describes the anatomy of the spine and the importance of hydration for its function.
- Wessman, Bruce H., “The Intervertebral Disc and Low Back Pain” (1993). Physical Therapy Scholarly Projects. 474. – This student dissertation gives an introduction to back pain and what happens to the spine during back pain.
- Markson Chiropractic. “Is your back pain caused by dehydration?” Dr. Hoder. – This short, accessible article describes the importance of hydration in the spine as well as tips to stay hydrated.
- Atlantic brain & spine. “Dehydration could be the source of your back pain; here’s why”, Jul 2017.- This is another accessible article that describes how dehydration may cause back pain as well as giving advice on staying hydrated.
- The Link Between Dehydration and Back Pain
- How Dehydration Affects Your Spine and Back
- Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain or Spine Problems?
- 1. Spinal Construction
- 2. Movement and Gravity Decrease Water
- 3. Spinal Rehydration
- How Does Dehydration Affect Your Spine and Back?
- 1. Immobility Due to Dehydration
- 2. Bulging or Herniated Discs
- 3. Spine or Back Pain
- What Are Signs of Dehydrated Discs?
- What Dehydration Symptoms Will I Experience?
- 1. Weakness
- 2. Dizziness
- 3. Change in Mental Status
- 4. Dark Urine
- 5. Low Blood Pressure
- 6. Dry Skin
- 7. Rapid Breathing
- 8. Rapid Heartbeat or Irregular Pulse
- 9. Sunken Eyes
- 10. Fatigue
- 11. Dry Mouth
- Disc Hydration Techniques
- Tips to Stay Hydrated
- Relieve Your Pain and Revive Your Life
- What are back muscle spasms?
- What is the treatment for back muscle spasms?
- When should you see your health care provider?
Dehydration’s Negative Effects
Going to bed even mildly dehydrated can disrupt your sleep. Surprised? Dehydration causes your mouth and nasal passages to become dry, setting you up for sleep-disruptive snoring and a parched throat and hoarseness in the morning.
A lack of pre-bed fluids can also lead to nocturnal leg cramps that may keep you awake. In addition to the frustration of fragmented sleep, being dehydrated during night can compromise your alertness, energy, and cognitive performance the following day.
Sleep-Related Fluid Loss
Even if you start the night reasonably well-hydrated, you’ll lose some body fluids simply by breathing while you sleep. This is especially true if you breathe through your mouth, snore or have sleep apnea. (If you breathe through your nose while you slumber, you won’t lose nearly as much water from your body.) An overly dry or warm bedroom can also lead to extra fluid loss during the night, as can a late-day intense exercise session without sufficient rehydration. Drinking excessive alcohol can exacerbate these fluid-compromising scenarios, which in turn can cause you to feel tired or lethargic the next day.
How to Hydrate Right
Good hydration requires more than guzzling a bottle of water before bed. Focus on drinking plenty of non-caffeinated fluids regularly throughout the day. Women need approximately 91 ounces daily from beverages and foods, while men should aim for about 125 ounces. Waiting until bedtime to do your drinking sets you up for multiple nighttime bathroom trips (if this happens frequently to you, it may be a condition called nocturia) making it difficult to achieve quality sleep and making it tougher to wake up in the morning. Practice spreading your fluid intake throughout your day to maximize the odds of sleeping soundly at night.
How Can You Tell If You’re Dehydrated?
Your skin loses water by sweating when it’s hot. You also lose moisture through skin in cooler weather because the air is drier. Check your skin for signs of dehydration such as:
- roughness or flaking
- flushing or redness
- cracked skin or lips
- cold or clammy skin
- tightening or shrinking (less plump skin)
Your mouth and tongue may feel dry or sticky when you’re dehydrated. You might also have bad breath.
Your body needs plenty of water to make saliva or spit. When you’re dehydrated, you have less saliva. This causes more bacteria to grow in your mouth. Brushing your teeth and drinking plenty of water helps to get rid of odor-causing bacteria.
You may be able to tell if you’re dehydrated by looking at your urine. Dark yellow to amber urine means you may have mild to severe dehydration. You can usually tell you have healthy hydration levels if your urine is very light in color.
You may also urinate less than normal when dehydrated.
Dehydration can cause or worsen constipation. You may have difficult or fewer bowel movements if you’re not getting enough water. Your stool may look dry or like small lumps.
Water is needed to help digest food and move waste along your digestive tract. Drink plenty of water to stay regular.
5. Thirst and hunger
Thirst is a sign your body needs more water. You may also feel hungrier when you’re dehydrated.
A medical review found that adults who were dehydrated often had a higher body weight. More research is needed on the link between dehydration and hunger. Getting plenty of water may help reduce food cravings. Adults who weigh more also need more water to stay hydrated.
6. Blood pressure
About 55 percent of your blood is liquid. Water loss can lower your blood volume and affect blood pressure.
The American Heart Association lists dehydration as a cause of low blood pressure. Drinking water helps balance blood pressure.
Medical research shows that dehydration can make you feel tired even when you’re rested. Men in a study on dehydration reported they felt fatigue, lethargy, and tiredness. These symptoms may be due to low blood pressure caused by dehydration. Being properly hydrated helps raise energy levels.
You may have a headache even if you’re mildly dehydrated. A study found that women being just 1.36 percent dehydrated triggered headaches.
Headache pain may be linked to low blood pressure due to water loss. Drinking water may help raise blood pressure and ease symptoms.
Dehydration can cause nausea and dizziness. The nausea may lead to vomiting. This makes you lose even more water, worsening symptoms.
Nausea may also be linked to low blood pressure caused by dehydration.
Severe dehydration can lead to fainting. You may feel lightheaded or faint when you stand up suddenly after sitting or lying down. These symptoms may happen when dehydration lowers your blood volume and blood pressure.
11. Heart effects
Dehydration can lead to a pounding heart. A fast heartbeat and quick breathing may be a sign of severe dehydration.
Water loss leads to lower blood volume. This makes the heart work harder to move blood throughout your body. Getting hydrated raises blood volume and returns your heart rate to normal.
12. Brain function
Your brain is more than 70 percent water. Research on men in their 20s found that dehydration slows some types of brain function. It can affect alertness, concentration and memory. Study participants made more mistakes on vision and memory tests when they were dehydrated.
Another study showed that even slight dehydration can cause driving mistakes. This includes drifting across lanes and slowed reaction time while braking. The results found that driving while dehydrated can worsen driving skills as much as if you were at the legal alcohol limit (0.08 percent in the United States), or if you were driving while sleep deprived.
Medical research found that dehydration may make your brain more sensitive to pain. Men in the study showed more pain activity in the brain when they were dehydrated than when they were given plenty of water to drink.
Studies on both men and women found that dehydration made individuals feel anxious, tense, or depressed. Adults reported their mood was lower. Tasks seemed more difficult when they were dehydrated. Mood changes, such as confusion or irritability, are signs of serious dehydration.
Once you’re thirsty, you’ve already reached the point of dehydration. It’s your body literally telling you that it needs more water. Thirst along with extremely yellow pee are two obvious indicators that you need to up your liquid intake. But there are several not-so-clear signs of dehydration that may end up going ignored. For instance, if you’re always low on energy and feeling sluggish, it could be due to — you guessed it — dehydration.
And while it’s super easy to remedy (just add water), the consequences of long-term dehydration can actually be life-threatening. Severe side effects can even include brain swelling and kidney failure, which are really not worth it, in my opinion.
Here are other signs to watch out for, according to Mayo Clinic:
- Extreme thirst
- Dark-colored urine
- Less frequent urination
- Increased urination
- Excessive sweating
And if you have any of the following symptoms, it’s time to contact your doctor:
- Diarrhea for 24 hours or more
- Black or bloody stool
- Difficulty keeping fluids down
In any case where you’re urinating more frequently, sweating more, suffering from diarrhea, or vomiting, be sure you’re replenishing your body with more fluids to make up for the loss. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a vicious cycle.
ADVERTISEMENT Image Source: StockSnap / Bruce Mars
6 Unusual Signs of Dehydration You Should Know About
Becoming extremely dehydrated — defined by the World Health Organization as when you lose more than 10 percent of your body weight in fluid — can lead to injury or fatal complications, and requires an ER visit. Seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, or hypovolemic shock can occur because your blood volume is too low.
Yet it rarely comes to that. Most of the time, you can easily replenish your fluid stores to fend off dehydration. The truth is you can lose 3 to 4 percent of your body weight through dehydration without feeling any real symptoms, says Alp Arkun, MD, chief of service for emergency medicine at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers in Southern California. Yet, once you have lost 5 to 6 percent, you’ll start to feel the symptoms of mild dehydration, according to Medline Plus. Thirst, fatigue, dizziness, or constipation are sure signs it’s time to reach for water or a sports drink that’s low in sugar and high in electrolytes.
RELATED: Thirsty? 9 Refreshing Alternatives to Soda
But the signs of dehydration aren’t always so obvious. Here are six surprising signs and symptoms of dehydration:
1. Bad Breath Is a Possible Warning Sign of Dehydration
Saliva has antibacterial properties, but dehydration can prevent your body from making enough saliva.
“If you’re not producing enough saliva, you can get bacterial overgrowth in the mouth, and one of the side effects of that is bad breath,” says John Higgins, MD, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas in Houston and the chief of cardiology at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital in Houston.
2. Dry or Flushed Skin Could Be a Symptom of Dehydration
“A lot of people think that people who get dehydrated are really sweaty, but in fact, as you go through various stages of dehydration, you get very dry skin,” Dr. Higgins says, adding that skin may appear flushed as well.
When pinched, the skin of a dehydrated person may remain “tented” and take some time to return to its normal, flat appearance.
RELATED: What Is ‘Raw’ Water, and Should You Drink It?
3. Muscle Cramps Are a Dehydration Symptom, Likely From Heat Illness
When your body loses enough fluid, it’s unable to cool itself off adequately, leading heat illness, notes OrthoInfo. One symptom to look out for is muscle cramps, which can happen while exercising, particularly in hot weather.
“The hotter you get, the more likely you are to get muscle cramps, and that’s from a pure heat effect on the muscles. As the muscles work harder and harder, they can seize up from the heat itself. Changes in the electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, can lead to muscle cramping as well,” says Higgins.
Even in cooler weather, dehydration is possible if you don’t drink enough fluids while working out. Higgins says symptoms may be milder or come on slower, but dehydration carries the same risks, regardless of temperature outside.
4. Fever and Chills Are More Symptoms of Heat Illness, Which Causes Dehydration
Other symptoms of heat illness include fever and chills. You may sweat profusely while your skin is cool to the touch.
Fever can worsen dehydration. The higher the fever, the more dehydrated you may become. Unless your body temperature decreases, your skin will lose its cool clamminess and then become hot, flushed, and dry to the touch. At this point, it’s important that you cool yourself down immediately and see a medical professional, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises. Applying ice and cool, wet cloths, and moving to a cool area are short-term strategies until you can see a medical professional.
According to the Mayo Clinic, children and infants lose more of their body fluid to fever, and they are more likely to experience severe diarrhea and vomiting from illness. Any fever in an infant or toddler is cause for concern. Ask your pediatrician for guidelines on when to call for help.
The CDC urges adults with fever to seek medical help if their temperature reaches 103 degrees F.
RELATED: 4 Simple Ways to Stay Hydrated This Summer
5. Food Cravings, Especially for Sweets, May Just Mean You’re Thirsty
“When you’re dehydrated, it can be difficult for organs such as the liver, which uses water, to release glycogen and other components of your energy stores, so you can actually get cravings for food,” Higgins says.
While you can crave anything from chocolate to a salty snack, cravings for sweets are more common because your body may be experiencing difficulty breaking down glycogen to release glucose into the bloodstream to use as fuel, he says.
6. Headaches Could Be a Sign You Need to Drink More Water
As Medline Plus points out, even mild dehydration can cause a dehydration headache and trigger a migraine headache. Although various factors besides dehydration can cause headaches, drinking a full glass of water and continuing to sip more fluids during the day is an easy way to ease your pain if, in fact, dehydration is a culprit.
RELATED: What Is Alkaline Water and Does It Offer More Benefits Than Plain H2O?
How to Tell if You’re Dehydrated or if It’s Something Else
If you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated. But lack of thirst doesn’t necessarily mean you’re well hydrated. Here are two other ways to check whether your body is dehydrated:
Try this skin test. Use two fingers to pinch up some skin on the back of your hand, and then let the skin go. The skin should spring back to its normal position in less than a couple of seconds. Higgins says that if the skin returns to normal more slowly, you might be dehydrated.
Check your urine. If you’re well hydrated, your urine will be mostly clear with a tinge of yellow (the color of light lemonade before it hits the bowl). Darker yellow or orange are the “warning” colors to watch for, per UC San Diego Health. If you see those colors, start drinking fluids.
RELATED: 8 Foods High in Water That Can Help Prevent Dehydration
Tips for Staying Hydrated
When it comes to daily water intake, hard-and-fast rules are difficult to apply because it depends on so many variables, including your age, gender, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and whether you have any underlying medical conditions.
Yet 2004 guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — the most recent available — advise drinking 2.7 liters per day for women and 3.7 liters per day for men from food and fluid.
Here are some tips for getting all the fluids you need and avoiding dehydration:
Keep Your Water Bottle Handy at All Times
“If it’s right next to you, you’ll likely get into the habit of sipping it without even realizing it,” says Johannah Sakimura, RD, an outpatient oncology dietitian at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey.
Try Spicing Up Plain Water
“If you don’t love plain water, jazz it up by adding a splash of fruit juice or chunks of fresh or frozen fruit,” says Sakimura. “Or try naturally flavored, calorie-free seltzers — their fizz and fruit flavor makes them more appealing than plain, flat water.”
RELATED: LaCroix Lawsuit: Is Sparkling Water Good or Bad for You?
Turn to Sugar-Free Herbal Tea
Sakimura recommends drinking unsweetened teas, which are available in lots of different flavors. “Sip fruity iced teas during the day (with lots of ice if it’s hot out), or cozy up with a mug of hot peppermint or chamomile tea at night — they all count toward your daily fluid goal.”
Swap Your Packaged Snacks for Fresh Options
“Swap dry snacks, like chips, pretzels, and crackers — which have a very low water content — with refreshing munchies, like fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt, healthy smoothies, celery with peanut butter, and cut veggies with hummus,” recommends Sakimura.
Pile on the Produce
In the same vein, know that those veggies and fruits are hydrating, just like beverages. “Aim to make half your plate produce at meals. All those vegetable and fruit servings will supply water as well as a hearty dose of vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Sakimura. “In fact, some fruits and vegetables are more than 90 percent water — including cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon (of course), cucumber, celery, lettuce and leafy greens, zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers.”
Sip More Fluid During Meals
“Sipping water with meals will help you eat more slowly, pace your eating, and, of course, stay hydrated,” Sakimura says.
RELATED: 5 Tricks for Getting Enough Fruit and Veggies
A Final Note on the Importance of Preventing Dehydration if You’re Elderly
Elderly people may be at higher risk for dehydration for a number of reasons, per the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
Some elderly people become chronically dehydrated if they take certain medicines, such as diuretics, have a diminished sense of thirst, are not able to get themselves a glass of water easily, or forget to drink because of dementia. Chronic dehydration in an elderly person may lead to confusion, low blood pressure, dizziness, and constipation.
If you have an elderly relative with mobility limitations or cognitive problems, be sure to watch him or her for signs of dehydration, or ask their caregivers to do so.
As for your own well-being, remember that healthy bodies are composed of at least 60 percent water. Keep that healthy balance, and drink up!
Additional reporting by Sheryl Huggins Salomon.
According to Dr Robbyn Keating of the Arrowhead Clinic, dehydration can also cause back pain. As she pointed out, staying hydrated helps your body to perform its vital functions. “When you become dehydrated, your body reacts negatively causing you to be crabby, faint, and completely shocks your organs, muscles, and bones,” she said.
The link between backache and dehydration is the small disks in your spine, she explained: “These little discs are jelly-like material that is close to 75 per cent water. The outer ring is called the Nucleus Pulposus, and the inner ring is mainly water.
“By the end of the day you are a quarter of an inch to half an inch shorter than when you woke up in the morning. You are shorter because of the water slowing releasing from the spinal discs. You return to your normal height in the morning because while you are sleeping the discs rehydrate fully.
“The discs try to hydrate throughout the day, but in the upright position, it is not as easy. Movement helps hydrate the discs during the day.
“When people ask, ‘Can drinking water help with my back pain?’ The answer is yes. You need the water in your body for the spinal discs to rehydrate.
“Not only do these little discs impact a very small part of your height but more importantly they affect your body’s daily function.
“The jelly-like discs are between every two vertebrae and absorb the shock of your everyday movement protecting your spine from wear and tear.
“If the discs are not adequately hydrated you not only shrink but they cannot protect or support your spine. This causes more stress on the spine and eventually, it will swell, become painful and possible bulge the nucleus pilposis, which is extremely uncomfortable.”
Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?
Of course, dehydration can cause your back to hurt.
Hydrating your body is a basic necessity for your body to fully function and feel good.
When you become dehydrated, your body reacts negatively causing you to be crabby, faint, and completely shocks your organs, muscles, and bones.
It is essential that you take care of your body and drink plenty of water.
Why you might ask?
What You Should Know About Dehydration and Back Pain
The link between backaches and dehydration is small discs in your spine!
These little discs are jelly-like material that is close to 75% water.
The outer ring is called the Nucleus Pulposus, and the inner ring is mainly water.
By the end of the day you are ¼ to a ½ inch shorter than when you work up in the morning.
You are shorter because of the water slowing releasing from the spinal discs.
You return to your normal height in the morning because while you are sleeping the discs rehydrate fully.
The discs try to hydrate throughout the day, but in the upright position, it is not as easy. Movement helps hydrate the discs during the day.
When people ask, can drinking water help with my back pain, the answer is yes! You need the water in your body for the spinal discs to rehydrate.
Not only do these little discs impact a very small part of your height but more importantly they affect your body’s daily function.
The jelly-like discs are between every two vertebrae and absorb the shock of your everyday movement protecting your spine from wear and tear.
If the discs are not adequately hydrated you not only shrink but they cannot protect or support your spine.
Causing more stress on the spine and eventually, it will swell, become painful and possible bulge the nucleus pilposis which is extremely uncomfortable.
Just think you need water for back pain because dehydration causes your spine stress and your body struggles to function.
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10 Signs to Know You Are Dehydrated
- Bad Breath
- Dry Eyes or Blurry Vision
- Muscle Cramps
- Dark Urine
- Dry skin
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How Can You Tell If You Are Dehydrated?
There are two simple tests to see if you are dehydrated: checking your urine or your skin.
When you use the restroom look at the color of your urine. If it is light, then you are well hydrated but if its dark then you need to drink more water because you are dehydrated.
Pinch the skin on the top of your hand.
If the skin quickly goes back down and looks normal, then you are hydrated, but if it slowly returns to normal or stays pinched up, then you are dehydrated and need to start drinking more water.
You do not need to chug the water because it can upset your stomach just work on drinking the proper amount.
Most experts say if you drink half your weight in fluid ounces then you are taking care of your body’s needs and will stay hydrated.
Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink water because by then you are already dehydrated. Continual drinking thought the day is best and easiest to maintain your body’s proper hydration level.
Sadly, too many people suffer from dehydration. According to the American Journal of Public Health, 29.5% of adults in the united states are not adequately hydrated. They performed a study on hydration and found that lower-income adults are more likely to be dehydrated because they do not have access to safe drinking tap water. Most lower-income people drink less and drink more sugary drinks than water.
Up to 60% of an adult human body is made up of water and 90% of an adult’s weight is water, according to USGS.
Keeping these number in mind just images how hard it is on your body when you deprive it of water. Your body could potentially shut down, and you could die from dehydration.
It may seem hard for some people to drink enough but once you start making it a habit and experience the benefits of a healthy body, it will seem easy to drink enough water to stay hydrated.
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Tips to Help You Stay Hydrated
- Drink plenty of water
- Drink water when working out
- Favor your water to make it more appealing
- Eat fresh raw fruits and veggies
- Monitor your urine
- Carry water with you everywhere as a reminder to keep drinking
- Set a timer to keep tabs on your intake of water
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Fix Back Pain at Arrowhead Clinic
After a few days of hydrating correctly, you are still experiencing back pain talk to a chiropractor.
You can schedule a free consultation where they will do a full workup on your overall health.
Don’t keep ignoring your back pain, get the treatment your body deserves.
Click the banner below to schedule an appointment with one of our expert chiropractors today!
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Next blog: What Happens When you Crack your Back?
Original blog post published here.
Does dehydration cause back pain?
It can be hard to find the cause of back pain, and just as hard to treat it. The discs between the vertebrae in our spines need to stay hydrated to prevent damage that could lead to back pain. However, does that necessarily mean that drinking more will keep back pain at bay?
What counts as back pain?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic low back pain is the second most common cause of disability in American adults, responsible for millions of days lost from work each year . Back pain can include persistent aching or stiffness anywhere along the spine, sharp localized pain, chronic pain that radiates into the buttocks and legs, and muscle spasms .
What causes back pain?
The exact cause of back pain can be difficult to diagnose. Back pain is considered “mechanical” when it originates from the joints, bones, or soft tissues in and around the spine. Minor injuries such as pulled ligaments (sprains) or pulled muscles (strains) may contribute to back pain . In many cases there is no obvious cause and the pain is classified as “non-specific.”
Additionally, a number of medical conditions can be the underlying cause of back pain. For example, when the discs between the vertebrae in the spine “slip” or “prolapse” they can press on nerves and cause pain . Sciatica is irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs from the pelvis to the feet . Back pain can also be caused by swelling of the joints in the spine (ankylosing spondylitis) or bones in the spine slipping out of position (spondylolisthesis). Additionally, back pain may indicate serious underlying problems such as broken bones, infections or a rare nerve disorder like cauda equina syndrome .
What happens in the spine during back pain?
The spine is made up of 33 interlocking bones called vertebrae. Between each pair of adjacent vertebrae lies an intervertebral disc. These discs prevent the vertebrae grinding against one another when you move. They allow flexibility and protect the bones from shocks . Changes or damage to the intervertebral discs can create discomfort and pain in the back.
The intervertebral discs contain contain large amounts of water. In particular, the nucleus pulposus, a region of semi-gelatinous material at the center of each disc, is about 80% water . The water content allows the nucleus pulposus to evenly distribute pressure from the vertebra in all directions. It also acts as a cushion and shock absorber for any jarring movements in the spine .
The fluid levels within the intervertebral discs is not constant, because as you move around the nucleus pulposus loses water. This causes the intervertebral discs to thin . Similarly, the weight of gravity compressing your spine also leads to water release—in fact, by the end of the day you can be up to half an inch shorter than when you woke up . Normally this is fine; the discs rehydrate and repair every day, allowing them to effectively cushion your spine once again.
Dehydration of the nucleus pulposus is associated with disc degeneration . When the disc dehydrates, the pressure from spinal movement is no longer evenly spread in all directions, but instead is shifted to the disc’s outer ring. This outer ring is not designed to endure heavy loads and can begin to collapse under the weight and movement of the back. A collapsed disc can put pressure on nerves within the spinal column, leading to back pain .
Degeneration can also cause the disc to bulge outward, pressing on nerves and causing pain. Even more serious, the disc can herniate, or press through a crack in its tough outer covering (the annulus fibrosus). Again, this may lead to pressure on the nerves in the back and cause pain .
Can back pain be caused or worsened by dehydration?
As you can see, hydrated discs are happy discs. Your body needs to ensure that any water lost from the semi-gelatinous nucleus pulposus in the intervertebral discs is replaced. This allows the discs to continue to function as shock absorbers between the vertebrae in the spine. Without proper hydration, thinning and bulging of the discs can put pressure on nerves, potentially causing back pain .
So the question is, does how much you drink relate to how hydrated your intervertebral discs are? It seems to make sense that the more water you drink, the more water is available to rehydrate your discs. This is the theory put across by spine health and chiropractic websites as to why not drinking enough may cause or worsen back pain .
When we are dehydrated, the water that is available is directed first to the vital organs. This can mean that other areas, such as the spine, may suffer as a result . Therefore, one might assume that when the spine isn’t receiving adequate hydration, the intervertebral discs suffer too. So while you wouldn’t expect to feel immediate reduction in back pain as soon as you drink water, over the long-term, good hydration could help with spine health.
Is there any evidence to support this theory? Anecdotally, chiropractors have reported increases in patients reporting back pain during hot periods, many of whom appear to have a relatively low fluid intake . In 2003 this anecdotal evidence led to a study testing the hypothesis that fluid intake is lower in people with back pain. Scientists compared fluid intake diaries of patients with back pain and patients without back pain.
Surprisingly, this experiment actually found that the subjects with back pain consumed significantly more fluid in total, disproving the original hypothesis. The authors noted the study was small (165 patients) and there may be numerous reasons why patients with back pain drink more fluids. Therefore, the findings cannot be generalized to all back pain patients .
At the time of the study, the authors could not find any other published research on fluid intake in back pain patients, and it appears there have not been many investigations into this question since. So despite the plausibility of an association between fluid intake and intervertebral disc hydration, there’s currently no good evidence to support it.
In addition to the lack of hard evidence connecting fluid intake and back pain, the hydration level of the intervertebral discs isn’t only related to water availability. For example, age-related loss of collagen and protein-sugar compounds within the nucleus pulposus make it less able to hold onto water, contributing to disc dehydration and degeneration .
Back pain is a common and potentially debilitating condition. Although in many cases back pain gets better within a few weeks or months , this pain can also point to more serious injuries or health problems. The discs between the vertebrae in the spine are important in allowing flexibility and acting as shock absorbers within the spine. However, when these intervertebral discs become dehydrated, their degeneration can put pressure on nerves and lead to back pain. It’s tempting to conclude that the more we drink, the better we can keep our intervertebral discs hydrated. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the evidence to support a causal link between lack of fluid intake and back pain. Hopefully, scientists will provide more evidence soon!
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Writer: Josie Elliott
Editor: Teddy Angert
The Link Between Dehydration and Back Pain
By Sara Butler
Summer is in full swing, and those high temperatures can make it easier to become dehydrated. In fact, the National Institutes of Health estimate 75 percent of people in the United States don’t drink enough water. So, what’s the big deal? If you suffer from back pain dehydration may just be making it worse. Here’s what you need to know about the signs and symptoms of dehydration and how they may be contributing to your back pain.
The human body is 60 percent water, and it’s constantly being moved through and getting lost. When you sweat, use the restroom and even breathe you are losing water. This is why it’s so important to your overall health to make sure you are hydrated. So, how can you tell if you’re not getting enough water? You may experience:
- Dry skin
- Dry mouth
Of course, those are the most common signs and symptoms, but here are a few you may not realize that could also mean you’re dehydrated:
- Headaches – Your brain is bathed in water constantly in order to keep it cushioned. When you don’t have enough water in your body it can cause headaches in a few ways. Either your brain has lost that cushion and is bumping up against different parts of your skull or your neck muscles have tightened due to dehydration and are causing a headache. Drinking enough water can help to relieve this symptom, and when you combine it with a chiropractic adjustment you may be able to find more relief.
- Back pain – The muscles in your back can become stiff and sore when you aren’t hydrated enough, and stiff muscles can lead to painful muscle spasms or even slipped discs in your back and neck.
What You Can Do
Aside from making sure you drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water each day to stay hydrated, you can try to treat any symptoms you have impacting your neck and back with some other treatments.
Of course, see your chiropractor to make sure you are properly aligned. You can also use ice or heat to help relieve any muscle pain and stiffness you are experiencing. You should use ice first if you experience muscle pain or stiffness, and for about the first 24 hours after. It’s also a great treatment for migraines as well as muscle sprains and strains.
Heat is best after two to three days of ice therapy, using it for about 20 minutes at a time with at least an hour between treatments.
The most important thing you can do for your health this summer is to make sure you’re drinking enough water. You’ll be amazed how much better it can make you feel!
How Dehydration Affects Your Spine and Back
When someone mentions dehydration, thirst, dryness and fatigue come to mind. But back pain and spine problems are unexpected results of dehydration. Water is a significant component of bodily functions, altering the metabolism, skin and energy levels, but it also changes the inner workings of your physiological system, like organs and tissues. The spine and back’s elements hold a surprising amount of water, and a lack of water even impacts their motion and your health. The following explanations give an overview of the connection between hydration and spinal health.
Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain or Spine Problems?
How dehydration affects your back links directly to its central structural column: the spine. Your spine is a vital element of your health that keeps your back intact. But hydration is a surprising factor that impacts your spine. The makeup of your spine, the impact of movement and the way your body rehydrates all give insight into how your water input changes your ability to move with ease.
1. Spinal Construction
The spine is a column composed of discs, vertebrae and cartilage, and the primary purpose of this structure is to encase the spinal cord. The discs take the brunt of any jarring motions you may perform throughout your daily practices, so the vertebrae do not grind together, providing flexibility and relieving harmful shock. Each vertebra contains liquid or nucleus pulposis, and a cushioned portion of water. The outer layer, the annulus fibrosus, is bendable but sturdy enough to protect the inner substance. However, the discs lose and regain water regularly, which is a natural process. They cyclically reabsorb as exertion happens and you replenish your system with water.
2. Movement and Gravity Decrease Water
As the discs undergo wear and tear, the water loss causes the discs to thin, thus altering the tissue density. Movements like jumping, running, walking and bending all take away some of the fluid in the spinal discs. The pressure from everyday activities leaches the water from the discs, and the weight of gravity presses on the spinal discs, which also takes some water from the stores in the discs. Stress and pressure contribute to degeneration. One effect of the loss of water is a reduction in disc size and an inability to cushion like they once could. Movement becomes difficult when the discs have shrunk enough to stop sustaining the proper distance and connection of cartilage and vertebrae.
3. Spinal Rehydration
For regular exertion and most healthy bodies, the discs rehydrate during the night with the water you’ve consumed. This process is called intradiscal fluid exchange because it replaces the old fluids with new hydration. The tissue in the discs gets replenished when the body rests and can undergo the restorative process. Discs are then plump and have their cushioning qualities again. They become the same size, consistency and shape the vertebrae need for your body to make basic motions.
A good night’s sleep restores your flexibility, but when this degeneration occurs over the years, the gradual bulging results in herniated discs or other painful conditions. Organs are the first place the body directs hydration, so if there is not enough water to meet the needs of the organs and other areas like the spine, these secondary parts will suffer.
How Does Dehydration Affect Your Spine and Back?
This explanation of the spine’s functions and the rehydrating process may still leave you asking, “Why do I have to drink enough water if my spine repairs itself?” How dehydration affects your spine comes down to the repair rate. The repair rate of spinal discs differs based on age and health, and habits like proper hydration can strengthen it. If you are dehydrated and your back is taking the majority of the impact, several uncomfortable reactions can take place.
1. Immobility Due to Dehydration
Dehydrated discs in your spine hamper mobility, and this will cause more than back pain if it ends up wearing the spinal discs down and hardening the inner nucleus pulposis. Vertebrae will be closer, hindering the body’s twisting and bending capabilities. Limited movement from this will require you to rest or receive surgery.
2. Bulging or Herniated Discs
Bulging and herniated discs are one of the most painful results of dehydration to the spine. Discs bulge when the outer annulus is damaged or weakened. The bulging of discs points pressure outwardly, which allows vertebrae to scrape against each other. A pronounced force on the discs can herniate them, as well, because dehydrated discs cannot sustain impact and have reduced elasticity. Because the discs, even the outer layer, need additional water to restrengthen, the bulging can occur from lack of continuous hydration.
3. Spine or Back Pain
Back pain can plague individuals who have a gradual wearing on their vertebrae from thinned discs or herniated discs releasing chemical substance on the nerve at the base of the back. Lower back pain happens because of indirect pressure on the nerve root after deterioration has started. Discomfort in the lower back can also stem from mechanical or chemical stimulation of the outer discs.
What Are Signs of Dehydrated Discs?
Watch for a dehydrated disc if you have current back problems or suspect your past hydrating practices may influence your spine health. The symptoms of dehydrated discs are typically an extreme pain in the lower back and numbness in the legs. The following symptoms are additional warning signs.
- Bulging spots on the spine
- Shooting pain through the legs
- Tingling in the legs, especially accompanied by numbness
- Weakness in leg muscles
- Absence of reflexes in the legs
- Issues with pelvic organs
What Dehydration Symptoms Will I Experience?
Dehydration means your body is either not taking in enough water, or it is expelling too much. Thirst, according to Baylor College of Medicine, is not the beginning of dehydration, but proof you already lack too much water. The decreased intake of water can be involuntary, due to illness or accidents, but voluntarily lacking sufficient hydration is avoidable.
To combat back and spine pain, observe these symptoms to make sure you remain hydrated. Hot weather is a typical cause of dehydration, which expels more of your water content than you can take in due to sweat and exertion. Alternate reasons for dehydration are illness or medical conditions. Some illnesses, like diarrhea or vomiting, will leave you expecting dehydration, but others will affect you more subtly. Watch for these factors, so you do not let your body lapse into more severe conditions.
If you or a loved one are experiencing weakness along with additional signs of dehydration, bring some water to the system to rehydrate. Visual, psychological and cognitive functions suffer when enough water, at least 2 percent of body weight, gets expelled from dehydrating factors. If muscles have lost their typical strength, it indicates the body needs to replenish its water. If the lower back and legs are weak, the dehydration could be central to the spine and back.
Because mental state is only one part of the body dehydration disrupts, physical functions like balance and steady vision may seem to fit into the mental status category. Lightheadedness and dizziness are related to blood pressure. Dizziness often comes from dehydration because blood levels dissipate and not enough blood makes its way to the head.
3. Change in Mental Status
A similar phenomenon to dizziness, changes in mental state like confusion or irritability occur when the neurons in the brain identify the body’s low levels of water. Mood changes are common with dehydration, but even anxiety and tension plague those who need an extra dose of hydration. The change in attitude warns the individual and those around them that something is unbalanced in their system.
4. Dark Urine
Dehydration is obvious in the urine color, because the contrast from purely hydrated urine — clear and colorless — to dehydrated urine — dark yellow or orange — is difficult to overlook. Kidneys conserve water when the body is not receiving enough, and this concentration of urine means the color will be darker, displaying the extent of dehydration. Occasionally, colored urine means nutrients, minerals or vitamins are being expelled or a different substance is coloring it and dehydration is not the problem. Brown urine indicates a more serious issue with your kidneys, so see a physician if this is the case.
5. Low Blood Pressure
In the past, the medical field thought water did not affect blood pressure, but recent studies show basic hydration raises blood pressure to a healthy level. Even in patients without proper baroreflexes, which balance blood pressure levels, water contributed to the management of their blood pressure. Dizziness, as discussed previously, is one result of low blood pressure. Fainting is another common response, but preparing for strenuous activity by drinking water reduces the chance of fainting.
6. Dry Skin
When you are dehydrated, your skin will become dried out, because water constitutes 30 percent of the skin’s makeup. Weather, genetics and diet may be why your skin is dry, but if other dehydration signs are present with dry skin, it’s time to rehydrate. Also, a skin turgor test helps you judge the hydration level of your skin. Pinch and raise your skin, then assess how long it took for your skin to return to its original state.
7. Rapid Breathing
Everyone expels water each day through daily behavior — even breathing. However, when dehydration affects people, their respiration system cannot operate properly. Drinking water removes secretions or mucus blocking and lining the airways, as well. But, dehydration’s effect on the body’s blood flow restricts the availability of oxygen. Those who are dehydrated enough to lose significant oxygen can go into shock.
8. Rapid Heartbeat or Irregular Pulse
A rapid heart rate and palpitations are also results of dehydration. Connected to both the lack of oxygen and blood flow, heart rates may be extremely high or even barely detectable. Usually, fast heartbeats result from a hot climate, but dehydration mainly causes rapid heartbeats from compensating for the lack of blood making its way to the vital parts of the body. Irregular heartbeats and palpitations happen due to the disruption in blood flow.
9. Sunken Eyes
Visual signs of dehydration include sunken eyes, and the eyes also will not produce tears and become dry. The strain of dehydration on the eyes will eventually cause them to look more and more tired. At some point, they may even appear sunken, but children experience this more often than adults do. Fatigue and irritation also contribute to the wear on eyes during dehydration. Lack of protection and bodily functions hinders the eyes’ ability to maintain normal conditions.
Substantial exhaustion or fatigue are signs your body does not have the proper energy that water supplies. Loss of appetite and other halted bodily operations show that your body is conserving its energy and resources because it has reached such a low level of hydration. You may notice fatigue in your mood, but overall exhaustion, especially unwarranted, is a warning that your water intake needs to increase.
11. Dry Mouth
Many parts of the body lose water when you are dehydrated because water is primarily for the vital organs that sustain life. So, the mouth becomes dry and even sticky with extra mucus. A dry mouth may increase your thirst, and if you notice these symptoms, you need to hydrate. These are signs of mild dehydration, but they could become more dangerous cases.
Disc Hydration Techniques
If you are experiencing back problems, your water intake could be the issue, and even if it is not the main issue, hydration can reduce the discomfort you are going through. However, medical professionals treat any serious back and spine issues that stem from dehydration. Although degenerated discs cannot rejuvenate themselves, the medical field has found other techniques to stimulate hydration. Disc hydration techniques are one way that can rehydrate the discs by distracting or stabilizing the intradiscal pressure. If you have herniated discs, ask your physician about this option to promote the right conditions for rehydration in the spine.
Tips to Stay Hydrated
Stay hydrated to protect your back and spine from serious pain down the road. Follow these practices to help your body regularly replenish and fortify the discs in your spine so that your back remains healthy.
- Eat fruits and vegetables, because they also contain water.
- Check your urine.
- Keep your intake to 30 to 50 ounces or 1 to 1.5 liters each day.
- Gradually drink water throughout the day.
- Limit diuretics like coffee, tea, alcohol and sodas because they cause you to rapidly lose water.
- Drink more water when you exercise or if you are in a hot climate.
Relieve Your Pain and Revive Your Life
If you are experiencing back pain or spine problems, seek treatment at a facility with an honest environment, clear and understandable treatment options and the most effective procedures for your pain. At the Spine Institute of North America, we offer this, and our professional and personable staff strive to find the right care path for you. We are a leader in the least invasive spine procedures and practitioners of techniques such as endoscopic discectomy, endoscopic facet rhizotomy and spinal cord stimulation.
Contact us today for more information on our spine procedures or to make an appointment.
To understand back muscle spasms, start by reviewing what you know about the different parts of the spine. You can think of the spine as a framework or scaffolding holding up the body. The spine is a collection of bony rings, called vertebrae, whose major function is to provide support for the body and protection for the spinal cord. The vertebrae are stacked on one another, separated by firm, pliable “cushions” called discs. The stack of bones and discs is held together by ligaments, and moved by muscles. The vertebrae form a kind of “tunnel” that houses the spinal cord—a collection of nerves that form a “communications highway,” sending and receiving messages from your brain, and branching off to the rest of your body.
What are back muscle spasms?
The muscles of your back act like ropes in the scaffolding, helping to “suspend” the spine. A muscle spasm is usually a sprain or a strain. It is an involuntary sustained cramping or tightening of the muscle fibers. Sometimes, it may feel like a “knot.” Muscle-related causes are among the most common reasons for back pain. Muscle spasms can be brought on by injury or inflammation (swelling), and can even be brought about by dehydration (not drinking enough liquids). Muscle spasms may also occur as the result of injury to the underlying structures, the vertebrae, or discs. The feeling of tightening may occur at different times, lasting from a few seconds to several minutes, or even days.
The fact is that the muscles in the back never rest, when you are sitting, lying down, or even sleeping. If the muscles on one side of your back were to tighten, the other side would try to relax, to compensate to keep your spine in proper position. Since the muscles in the back are always at work, it is hard to give them the chance to rest and heal when they are injured.
What is the treatment for back muscle spasms?
It may be important to keep active when you are having back muscle spasms. At the same time, lessen the chance of further injury by not playing sports, avoiding heavy lifting, and limiting activities that cause more pain. You can treat a muscle spasm with direct measures such as hot or cold packs, massage, hot baths, or some over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
When should you see your health care provider?
Contact your health care provider if you develop these symptoms along with back muscle spasm:
- Sudden difficulty controlling your bowel or bladder function
- Muscle weakness in your arms or legs that make you feel unstable when you walk, and decreases in the distance you can walk
- Pain and numbness traveling down your arms or legs, especially if this increases when sneezing, coughing, or sitting down
- Increased pain when lying down and the inability to sleep at night
- Fever, weight loss, or other signs of illness when you are experiencing muscle spasms
Generally, it’s a good rule of thumb that if you are not feeling some improvement after three days (72 hours), to contact your health care provider.
Since the muscles in the back work so hard, 24 hours a day, it is easy to understand that an injury may cause pain, and that recovering from the pain will take time. Listen to your body as you decide how much to cut back on your activities, and try treatments that will sooth your muscles.
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