There’s a connection between dehydration and back pain that anyone suffering from a tender, sore or tight back needs to know about. Can dehydration really cause back pain? While there are potential causes for back pain that range from auto accidents to repetitive strain, dehydration is a cause that’s certainly possible.

When we think of dehydration, we often picture the impact that it has on our skin or energy levels. However, very few of us instinctively make a connection between our drinking habits and our spines. In reality, the connection is very obvious once you understand a little bit about spinal health. The spine and back actually hold surprising amounts of water. When your water input isn’t adequate, you risk throwing both spinal health and back motion out of balance. The good news is that sipping your way to a stronger spine is actually very easy!

Why You Need Proper Hydration for Spinal Health

You may already know that the human body is comprised of about 60 percent water. However, you may not be aware of the fact that certain parts of the body contain even more water. Your spine is made up of soft, jelly-like discs tucked between every few vertebrae that are comprised of roughly 75 percent water. The primary job of these discs is to provide cushioning and shock absorption by acting as buffers between interlocking bones. Properly hydrated discs allow your spine to enjoy mobility.

As you move throughout the day, the water in your spine is very slowly released from the spinal discs with every bit of movement you make. During sleep, our spinal discs are able to replenish fully. In fact, the water loss that occurs during the day actually causes us to lose a little bit of height each day! We actually wake up taller each morning than we are when we go to bed at night. Like clockwork, our spinal discs are “plumped up” in our sleep to allow us to wake up at full height each morning. However, the “well” of the spine is never replenished if we’re not taking in enough water to stay hydrated.

What Happens to the Spine When the Body Is Dehydrated?

When we’re dehydrated, our discs are unable to be restored back to full volume. As a result, they don’t provide the insulation and protection that our spine needs for optimal spine health and performance. Without hydration, we no longer have a strong buffer to absorb the shock from our everyday movements. As a result, the spine begins to bear the brunt of our daily wear and tear. Here are some signs that your discs are not functioning as they should be:

  • Pain in the spine and back.
  • Swelling or inflammation.
  • Bulging discs.
  • Stiffness or reduced range of motion.
  • Shooting pain through your legs.
  • Weak leg muscles.
  • Compromised leg reflexes.
  • Tingling or numb legs.

Once your discs have experienced dehydration, it’s really only the beginning of the issue. The central role that the spine plays in your overall health means that you’re about to experience a trickle-down effect caused by a lack of water. First, a dehydrated disc will experience an imbalance of weight due to the lack of cushioning. This creates a very real possibility for disc collapse. When a disc collapses, this can begin to place pressure on all of the nerves within the spinal column. Even a very isolated, minor collapse can create pain and inflammation that reverberates throughout the entire body.

Treating Back Pain Caused by Dehydration

A treatment plan for getting your spine back in shape will be tailored based on the severity of the damage. If a disc has collapsed due to a lack of cushioning, it will be necessary to get that disc back into alignment to allow blood flow to be restored within the spine. This alone will help to relieve much of the tension and pain that you’re feeling. However, it won’t be enough on its own without some much-needed lifestyle changes. Many people are surprised by just how easy it is to become dehydrated when we’re not vigilant about our water intake. That’s why repairing back pain caused by dehydration is really a two-pronged plan that includes both correction of the spinal collapse and lifestyle changes.

Tips for Drinking More Water for a Healthy Spine

If you’ve determined that your back pain is caused by dehydration, this is actually very good news because it means that you can very easily turn the ship around. However, it does take consistency to reverse the effects of dehydration. Here’s a look at some best practices for drinking enough water each day to ensure that your spinal discs can be fully replenished:

  • Try to meet the daily recommended intake for water. By most measures, the daily recommended intake for adults is eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. It works out to roughly 2 liters of water throughout the day. Generally, you can get about 20 percent of your daily fluid intake from vegetables, fruits or broths with high water concentrations.
  • Don’t count soda, coffee or tea toward your hydration goal! Drinks that contain caffeine or artificial sweeteners can actually dehydrate you. However, things like freshly squeezed juices and herbal teas are exceptions.
  • Adjust your water intake for the weather. Yes, you probably will need to drink more water if you’re sweating outdoors on a hot day. When we sweat, we lose water at a much faster rate.
  • If you work out, increase your water intake accordingly! We can actually lose between 17 ounces and 50 ounces of water for every hour of exercise that we complete.
  • Use your urine as an indicator of your hydration level. If you notice that your urine is taking on a dark-yellow or amber hue, it’s time to start sipping because it means that your waste-to-water ratio is high. The urine of someone who is properly hydrated is typically a very pale yellow.

For many people, keeping track of how much they’re drinking each day can be challenging. One of the best ways to get on track with staying hydrated is to use a designated water bottle that you sip from throughout the day. You can simply multiply the number of ounces your bottle holds by how many times you refill your bottle throughout the day to get an accurate hydration count!

Don’t Ignore Back Pain and Discomfort

While dehydration is a potential culprit for back pain, don’t assume that you can necessarily sip away the pain. Even back pain that has been caused by dehydration may not simply go away with smarter drinking habits because a collapsed disc may be creating blockages and inflammation in your spine. Generally, it’s very important to have your spine evaluated for signs of trouble even if you’re committed to staying hydrated. There’s also a chance that back or spinal pain has nothing to do with dehydration. In this case, you’ll need to get to the root cause of the pain to establish a plan for addressing any injury or blockage that’s causing pain, tension, stiffness or loss of mobility.