Low back pain and irritable bowel syndrome
Is there a correlation between low back pain and irritable bowel syndrome? Researchers have long held that IBS can be caused by abnormal function of the nerves and muscles in the gut. No indication or explanation is ever given as to why this malfunction could occur. To my knowledge, there has been no adequate evidence to support this assumption. Also, I have not seen, heard, or read about any study that was specifically implemented to test this hypothesis. Due to my own observations on my own IBS symptoms, I am inclined to believe and support this hypothesis.
Some of us who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome have tried for many years, without success, to eliminate the often debilitating effects of this mysterious disorder. Generally, sufferers have spent a great deal of time and money, putting themselves through trial after trial only to be told nothing conclusive was found.
Often after years of expensive diagnostic procedures and studies, patients are told that there is nothing wrong with them. His complaint of symptoms is dismissed as imaginary or, more properly, in medical terms, psychosomatic. But with increasing numbers of patients complaining of the same pervasive list of symptoms, the medical community has been forced, in at least a small part, to recognize the disease as more than imaginary symptoms of hypochondria.
So what can we outbid for IBS? Is it a condition or disease in itself? Or is IBS a condition caused by or a symptom of some other physical, neurological, or possibly even psychological problem that has yet to be detected or diagnosed as related to the IBS condition? I find this to be a more plausible conclusion and will provide insight into my personal belief that IBS is a secondary condition rather than a condition in and of itself.
For years, doctors have proposed the concept of a secondary condition in relation to irritable bowel syndrome. Unfortunately, they have not yet been able to successfully document any evidence to say conclusively what the root cause of IBS could be. Also, I believe that there is not a single cause, but several causes, all with the same secondary symptoms, that make up what is called IBS.
Please do not believe that it is my intention to say that the IBS condition is not real or that the symptoms are psychosomatic in nature. I know from painful experience that the condition and symptoms of IBS are very real. I would also venture to say that due to the large number of reported cases, the medical community was forced to reevaluate its approach when dealing with patients with complaints of symptoms similar to irritable bowel syndrome. I am simply going to express what I have personally concluded about another possible cause of IBS that may be overlooked by the medical profession.
I’d also like to make it clear that IBS, with its list of many symptoms, can be a traceable progression of symptoms that stem from a single cause. I think, in my case, this is a very valid assumption. So far I have not been able to get any doctor to agree with me, at least to the point of officially taking office.
Before continuing, I think it would be a good idea to review a partial list of irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. IBS can be characterized by a combination of any or all of the following symptoms:
o Abdominal pain or discomfort, usually in the lower abdomen
o Altered bowel habit
o Chronic or recurrent diarrhea, constipation, or both. They can be mixed or alternated.
o Abdominal fullness
o Feelings of urgent need to have a bowel movement.
o Feeling of “incomplete” bowel emptying
o Low back pain
o Muscle bread
o Sleep disturbances
o Sexual dysfunction
It is increasingly believed that IBS symptoms are caused by abnormal function of the nerves and muscles of the intestine. I personally increasingly agree with this as a valid and plausible perception of at least one of the causes of irritable bowel syndrome. With some personal observations, I hope to clarify why I think this is a possible cause for many IBS patients. Unfortunately, what I have come to believe as the cause of my particular brand of IBS will surely not be a diagnosis for all cases of IBS.
I believe that those of us who have suffered from irritable bowel syndrome tend to minimize our symptoms and pain. We have been led to believe that apart from common sense changes in diet and exercise, there is nothing we can do because there is no cure. Many suffering people will suffer in silence for years before seeking medical treatment. By then, and I include myself in this group, we may have unconsciously diminished or even neglected some of the minor symptoms that IBS causes, focusing only on the ones that cause the most pain and discomfort.
Worse still, we are less likely to call a doctor’s attention to the symptoms simply by assuming that it is just another facet of our complex disorder. This could become a dangerous scenario for anyone with IBS. We can ignore persistent symptoms that have become more intense or new symptoms that seem to be related just because we are discouraged from being told that there is nothing anyone can do.
Doing these kinds of things could cause serious, life-threatening symptoms to be missed. Symptoms of conditions that, unlike IBS, can be treated if caught early. Things like colon cancer, stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, or many others, can be overlooked because we want to ignore our IBS symptoms after so many visits to the doctor.
My IBS story begins more than 20 years ago when I was a 26-year-old. While helping lift a very heavy cast iron wood stove from the back of a pickup truck, the other person lost control and the load moved downhill. in my back. I felt my back give way as the stove slammed into the floor at my feet. He knew he had suffered a serious injury. I couldn’t stand up from the 90 degree forward lean position I was in. I literally had to get up using my hands and arms against the side of the truck.
Being 26 years old, stubborn and thinking I was invincible, I had my wife help me home and to bed, without bothering to go to the emergency room. I had some painkillers left over which numbed the pain enough to allow me to sleep. When I woke up in the morning I was horrified because I couldn’t feel my legs. They were both cold and numb to the touch. He could move them, he just couldn’t feel them. After about 30 minutes of movement, the feeling started to return to my legs and at that moment I knew it was time to go to the doctor.
After the exam and x-rays, it was not pleasant to hear what the doctor said. He told me he had two options. One was to go to a surgical specialist and have fusion surgery on several of my lower lumbar vertebrae because the discs between them had been severely compressed. He mentioned that having this type of surgery would reduce my physical mobility by as much as 30% or more. At best, he explained, the surgery was about 40% effective.
My other option, he told me, was time … time allows to let my body try to heal itself. He explained that it would probably never be as good as it was before the accident, but that over time my body would partially heal on its own. He told me that the inflammation that was causing the pain and partial paralysis should subside. At 26, permanently losing 30% or more of my mobility was an unthinkable option. At least the second option offered some hope of recovery. He gave me muscle relaxants and pain relievers and that was it.
I trusted this doctor … we were good friends. We had a good personal and professional relationship. I took him at his word. By today’s medical standards, your medical advice probably wouldn’t hold up, but over 20 years ago, it was very likely that you had a very good perception of my problem.
For the next 6 months, I woke up with cold and numb legs every day, but as he said, the symptoms gradually improved. I was so focused on improving my back injury; I didn’t pay attention to other minor things that were happening that had become annoying.
The first and most frequent symptom was a change in my bowel habit. It’s not a big change, but it seemed like instead of a daily move, it was now once every other day, and it required a bit more effort. But with the back problem, it seemed minor in comparison and for several years seemed to be the only symptom. My back continued to improve but my gut never returned to normal.
I’ve always been a big person, back in 1986 at the age of 26 – I weighed around 220 pounds and was 6 feet tall. Slowly, my weight began to rise. I attributed my initial weight gain to a decrease in physical activity for the first year or two of my back problem. By the end of the second year, my physical capacity and my activity had almost returned to normal. I learned to deal with the pain and my legs were no longer numb. I was able to work quite well. Only occasionally did the pain in my back become such that I could not function in my “new” normal way, and usually only lasted a day or two. Now I had added 70 pounds to my weight with no real explanation.
Only in the last two years (it has been more than 20 since my back injury) have I begun to consider that the original injury is related to my intestinal and stomach problems. Because I believed there was little I could do to rectify the situation, I did my best to mentally control the pain. I did this well until the pain in my back started to get worse to the point that my legs started to go numb again. Not that this happened all the time, it was only occasional, but these episodes of pain have gotten a lot worse.
Only now that back pain is impossible to ignore have I realized the cycle of events that have taken place. Now when I notice my legs start to go numb more often, I have also noticed an increase in my IBS symptoms. The most frequent and painful symptoms seem to start with chronic constipation, which lasts for many days. This is followed by gas distress fatigue, headaches, bloating, acid indigestion, heartburn, and finally explosive diarrhea. Along with other symptoms, all woven into a cycle that I now believe is directly related to some kind of nerve injury due to my original back injury.
Since then I went to a neurosurgeon and they diagnosed me with severe compression and degeneration of the disc and spinal stenosis in the lower lumbar region. Treatment has yet to be defined, but I now have at least one doctor who agrees that many of my symptoms, if not all, could be directly related to the nerve dysfunction resulting from my current spinal condition.
If you’ve suffered a back injury or have IBS with low back pain, it may be wise to do a spinal study to find out if an underlying back problem could be involved in causing your IBS symptoms. It is a practical reason that if there is an injury to the spine or lower back from which the nerves that control lower bowl function are derived, there could also be intestinal dysfunction. With intestinal dysfunction, the progression of symptoms in a logical sequence up the upper line of the digestive tract would be a very plausible scenario.
If you have IBS and low back pain, you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain from a spinal exam. At the very least, you may find that there is no problem with the column, thus eliminating one more font.