Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?

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The human body needs water to survive. In fact, dehydration can kill you far more quickly than starvation. You might know that already – but did you know that not drinking enough water can contribute to back pain?

The most commonly-known symptoms of dehydration include fatigue, dizziness, dry skin and headaches, but the amount of water you drink can also have a direct effect on your spine. Here’s what you need to know.

Water and Your Spine

Your spine is made up of interlocking vertebrae that run from your neck down to the coccyx, which is sometimes referred to as the tailbone. The vertebrae protect your spinal cord. The vertebrae are separated from one another by intervertebral discs.

Each one of your intervertebral discs consists of two parts:

  1. A tough outer layer called the annulus
  2. A jelly-like center called the nucleus

The nucleus relies upon the water you take in to protect your spine. If you don’t drink enough and become dehydrated, the discs shrink and offer your spine less protection than they would if you were fully hydrated.

Even when you are drinking enough water to stay hydrated, your spine shrinks slightly throughout the day. When you go to bed at night, you are between ¼ and ½ an inch shorter than you are when you first wake up. That’s because your discs release and absorb water throughout the day in response to things like gravity and movement.

If you are dehydrated, then your intervertebral discs won’t be able to absorb the water you need while you sleep. When your vertebrae aren’t properly cushioned by the discs, the result can be chronic back pain.

How to Tell If You’re Dehydrated

Even people who don’t experience typical symptoms of dehydration may not be getting enough water. Here’s a simple test to see if you are dehydrated.

Pinch a small amount of skin on the back of your hand. Hold it for a moment and then, release it. If your skin moves back into place immediately, you are not dehydrated. If the pinched area stays pinched and only slowly returns to normal, it means that you’re dehydrated.

You’ve probably heard that you should drink eight glasses of water per day. A better rule of thumb is to divide your body weight by two to figure out how many ounces of water you need. If you weight 150 pounds, you should drink 75 ounces of water. You should drink extra water if:

  • The temperature is very high or you’re out in the sun
  • You’re engaged in manual labor or intense exercise
  • You’re pregnant or nursing
  • You have a fever or any virus that causes vomiting or diarrhea

At first, you may need to remind yourself to drink water during the day. Once you grow accustomed to the feeling of being well-hydrated, your body will crave water and drinking it will be second nature.

Conclusion

Drinking enough water will ensure that your discs have what they need to cushion your vertebrae and protect your spine. It may not eliminate back pain, but if dehydration has been contributing to your back pain, you should experience some relief.

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