Dehydration Could be the Source of Your Back Pain; Here’s Why

WomanDrinkingWaterToHelpSpinePain WomanDrinkingWaterToHelpSpinePain

Water is the primary source of all life. From the tiniest cell to the largest tree, water is found almost everywhere throughout nature and is absolutely essential for growth, health and survival; especially within humans.

Every system within your body, whether it be your organs, muscles blood or spine, is impacted by the amount of water you consume. If you’re not drinking enough, your body will not be able to perform at it’s highest potential and, at its worst, can have serious consequences - including back pain.

Most people recognize the importance of staying hydrated, but studies have shown that up to 75% of Americans spend their lives in a chronic state of dehydration because they don’t know how much water they need. They simply drink when they’re thirsty. The problem with this technique is that, by the time your body signals that it’s thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

Does this sound like you?

Well fear not, staying properly hydrated is far less daunting than it sounds and can have a dramatic impact on how your feel throughout the day.

So, go grab a cup of water then come back and read about how your back pain could be caused by dehydration and what you can do to fix it.

How Dehydration Causes Back Pain

Dehydration can cause back pain when the gelatinous material inside your discs lose water and are unable to hold the weight of your body, this causes the disc to collapse which can put pressure on the sensitive nerves exiting the spinal column.

Between every two vertebrae in your spine, there is a disc and its primary job is to separate interlocking bones and provide cushioning, shock absorption and mobility to the spine.

Now, it’s important to note that your discs are designed a lot like jelly donuts - they have a strong outer ring of fiber with a softer, more gelatinous substance in the center. This gelatinous center (known scientifically as the nucleus pulposus) is made up primarily of water and is what provides the majority of the cushioning for your spine.

Throughout the day, as your spine is enduring natural wear and tear, the water located inside the discs gradually leaks out. Normally this isn’t a problem because gravity pulls water down your spine and allows your discs to constantly rehydrate as you move around.

But, when you’re not drinking enough, there’s not enough water in your body to rehydrate the discs and they begin to shrink.

This is where problems start to arise.

Remember when we said that jelly-like substance in the middle of your discs acts as a shock absorber? Well, when a disc is dehydrated it puts almost all your weight on the outer ring of the disc, which isn’t designed to carry such a heavy load, and it can actually begin to collapse under the pressure. When a disc collapses, even at a minor level, it can start putting pressure on the sensitive nerves within the spinal column which can cause pain throughout the body.


Additionally, dehydrated discs can result in swelling and, if enough pressure is exerted, could lead to a herniated disc.   

If you’re struggling with neck, back or even leg pain that flares up occasionally, you should consider drinking more water.

How to Stay Hydrated

The great thing about water is that it’s virtually everywhere and almost always free. This means that it’s easy to stay hydrated and address back pain that could be caused by a lack of water in your discs.

Here are a few tips that can help keep you hydrated and your discs full of water:

  1. Drink More Water -- Over the years, experts have gone back and forth about how much water a person should drink. However, the general consensus is that you should drink half your bodyweight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you should be drinking 100 ounces of water every single day.

  2. Drink Plenty of Water When Working Out  -- This one may seem like a bit of a no-brainer and while many people drink while they’re working out, they don’t consume enough to replace what they’re sweating. A good rule of thumb is to drink a bottle of water before, during and after exercising for 60 minutes or less. If you’re planning on exercising for longer than an hour, bring more than one bottle of water out with you. Also, consider drinking a sports drink that contains sodium and potassium. We recommend that you avoid sugary drinks like Gatorade and try something more natural; Skratch is one of our favorites.

  3. Keep an Eye on Your Urine -- That’s right, your urine is one of the most accurate ways to tell if your body is hydrated. If it’s clear or a pale yellow, it usually means that you have enough water in your system. However, if it’s cloudy, dark yellow or smells bad (not due to something you’ve eaten) it means that you need drink more. Also keep in mind that when you drink more, you’ll likely start urinating more. For some, the added trips to the bathroom can be inconvenient, but over time your body will adjust to your extra intake of liquid and you won’t need to go as often.

The great thing about being hydrated is that it can do more than just have an impact on your spine health, though that is a huge benefit. It also has cardiovascular benefits, helps clear toxins out of your kidneys, helps deliver nutrients to your muscles, helps your hair grow thicker, makes your skin feel softer along and much, much more.

Drinking 100 ounces of water (or whatever half your bodyweight in ounces is) can seem like a daunting task, but it’s not as hard as it sounds.

An average Nalgene bottle is 32 ounces, which means that you only need to drink about three to reach your daily goal. That’s one after breakfast, one during the afternoon and one after dinner. Totally feasible.

There are dozens of other methods and tricks for staying hydrated online. Simply find what method works best for you and stick with it! Soon enough, it’ll become a healthy habit and relatively easy to keep yourself on track.

If you’re experiencing frequent or severe back pain, consider making an appointment with your spine care specialist.

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Atlantic Brain and Spine A graduate of both Yale and Stanford, Dr. Jae Lim is a board-certified spine surgeon who specializes in minimally invasive spine surgery and robotic spine surgery, significantly reducing surgical impact and recovery times. (703) 876-4270
8501 Arlington Blvd. Suite 330
United States
Jae Y. Lim Ben L. Nguyen