Fever, chills, and vomiting are among the common symptoms most people associate with the various forms of influenza, a seasonal illness that affects anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the population each year. One of the not-so-common symptoms associated with the flu is back pain. Here’s a closer look at the unique connection between the flu and back pain.
Why Does the Flu Sometimes Cause Lower Back Pain?
When you have the flu, your body goes into germ-fighting mode, which results in the increased production of molecules that include cytokines and chemokines. As these molecules are created by cells in larger numbers, they contribute to an increase in inflammation. A spike in tissue swelling can affect many structures in and around the spine, including:
• Spinal discs and joints
• Spine-supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons
• Nerves in and around the spine
Increased inflammation impinges, or presses, on various spinal structures, which can be especially painful for people who are recovering from spinal surgery such as lumbar disc replacement. Santa Monica patients may experience noticeable lower back pain combined with the more traditional flu symptoms.
How Can Flu-Related Coughing Affect the Spine?
While you have the flu, you may have fits of hard, forceful coughing. The pressure from the act of coughing is often felt in the lumbar (lower back) area. You may experience discomfort because of increased strain placed on spine-supporting muscles as you cough. There’s nothing you can do to control involuntary coughing fits, but you can minimize stress on your lower back by:
• Trying not to bend forward while coughing
• Reducing hard or forceful body movements as much as possible
• Doing brief stretches after bouts of coughing to release tension in your lower back muscles
Is There a Connection with Pneumonia?
Older individuals in particular are susceptible to developing pneumonia while they have the flu. One of the common side effects associated with pneumonia is pain felt in the middle or lower back. However, your first concern if you’re experiencing symptoms suggesting pneumonia should be seeking immediate medical attention.
What if You Have Existing Back Pain?
It’s also possible for existing back pain to be aggravated while you have the flu, which is usually because of the increased inflammation from the extra cytokines and chemokines being produced in the body coupled with inactivity from resting for prolonged periods. The result could be an uptick in the intensity of symptoms related to existing problems with sciatica, nerve compression in the lower back around certain vertebrae or discs, or abnormalities such as spinal narrowing in the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis).
As for treatment, it’s often said the source of the back pain must be treated. In this case, that source is the flu, which means once you focus on doing what you can to recover from the flu, your back pain should either go away entirely or return to its normal level if you had preexisting spine issues, which should continue to be treated by your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon. Common recommendations for dealing with the flu include drinking plenty of liquids, getting sufficient rest, and taking medications to get the virus out of your system.
If you’re experiencing severe or persistent back pain, whether it’s flu-related or not, make sure to see an experienced back pain specialist for prompt diagnosis and treatment. The industry-leading physicians at The Spine Institute are pioneers in spinal health, employing cutting-edge technology and innovative methods to enable patients to live pain-free, active lives. To schedule a personal consultation with one of our spinal health experts, give us a call today at 310-828-7757.