UTI Back Pain: Are UTIs the Cause of Your Back Pain?

Back pain can be a startling symptom of a urinary tract infection (UTI), but it’s not uncommon.

In this article, we will explore the link between UTIs and back pain, highlighting what it feels like, how it is typically diagnosed, and how to treat it. So you can identify whether it may be causing the back pain you are experiencing, and start feeling better.

What is the link between UTI & back pain?

Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, can sometimes cause a type of lower back pain that stems from inflammation and irritation1. This happens when bacteria enter the urinary tract through the urethra and begin to multiply in the bladder. The resulting back pain will probably persist until the UTI is treated.

What does UTI back pain feel like?

Individuals experiencing a urinary tract infection may notice discomfort in the lower back area, particularly beneath the ribcage. It is also common to feel pain in the lower abdomen.

UTI-related back pain typically manifests as a continuous, dull throb that may worsen during physical activities like bending or lifting. In contrast to the acute, focused pain from an injury, the pain from a UTI tends to be more diffuse and lingering. This pain is often coupled with a burning or stinging sensation during urination. You will probably have the urge to urinate frequently, even if your bladder is empty, and may notice that your urine is dark, brown, or red.

UTIs can lead to kidney infections

Kidney infections may arise as a complication of severe UTIs if the bacteria spread upwards, causing further inflammation2. It is important to seek medical attention to treat the infection. In some cases, a kidney infection that is left untreated can have serious outcomes such as kidney damage or sepsis, which can occur if the infection reaches the bloodstream or affects the renal arteries.

Kidney infection symptoms can include:

  • back pain and aches, particularly just underneath the ribcage, which could feel like intense pain or aching
  • fever, in which your body temperature is higher than 100.4°F (38°C) and you might experience on-and-off shaking chills
  • feeling nauseous or the urge to vomit
  • reduced appetite
  • headache.

Unlike a UTI that is in the bladder, you may or may not experience discomfort when urinating, or the need to urinate frequently.

How are UTIs diagnosed?

Recognizing other UTI symptoms early on is crucial for early intervention to stop the progression of the infection.

To diagnose a UTI your doctor might rely on what you tell them. they are also likely to ask you to collect a urine sample which they can they get tested as follows:

  1. Urinalysis:
    • Using a test strip (like a small piece of paper that contains certain chemicals that can change color depending on what they comes into contact with) to detect any substances in your urine that could indicate an infection, such as nitrites or leukocyte esterase.
    • Examining the urine under a microscope to identify the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, and bacteria, which are other indicators of an infection in the urinary system.
  2. Urine culture:
    • This grows a small sample of the bacteria that are causing your infection in order to identify the specific bacteria involved. The doctor will use this information to determine the appropriate antibiotic for your treatment.

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How to treat UTIs & back pain caused by UTIs?

UTIs can be treated effectively with antibiotics prescribed by healthcare professionals. To specifically address the discomfort that UTIs can cause, including any associated back pain, your doctor may recommend pain relief medication to help ease your symptoms.

Oral antibiotics

UTIs and kidney infections are generally treated initially with oral antibiotics. These are quite effective at not only clearing up the infection but also at preventing more serious problems that might need stronger treatments.

If the infection has led to a serious kidney infection, then intravenous antibiotics may be used. These are given through a vein and work faster and more forcefully to stop the infection from harming the kidneys further or spreading into the bloodstream.

How long does back pain last with UTI?

Back pain can persist for the duration of an untreated urinary tract infection. Sometimes, even after the infection has been successfully treated, the inflammation it causes may continue to provoke discomfort in the back. The good news is that UTIs are quick and easy to treat, and the infection and associated symptoms usually start to clear within a couple of days of taking antibiotics.

For those few days of infection, and perhaps a few days after, you might need to consider additional remedies such as:

  • applying heat
  • taking over-the-counter analgesics
  • engaging in light physical activity to help ease any remaining back discomfort
  • drinking plenty of fluids and eating healthily.

If you're in a lot of pain, you might want to rest for a few days and steer clear of any heavy exertion that might aggravate the pain. But usually light exercise is more effective than total rest.

How do you prevent UTIs & back pain symptoms?

UTIs are common, and it is estimated that at least 40–50% of people with a vulva and 5-15% of people with a penis will have at least one UTI in their lifetime. Some people experience recurring UTIs and find that working with a doctor, nutritionist, or other registered healthcare provider can help then to make nutritional and lifestyle adjustments to reduce the frequency of their infections.

Lifestyle adjustments

To prevent UTIs and the subsequent back pain they can cause, it's important to stay well-hydrated and maintain good personal hygiene.

Drinking plenty of water keeps your urine less concentrated, which can help keep infections at bay. And more importantly, prompts you to go to the toilet regularly, which helps to wash out any bacteria that might be trying to take hold of your bladder. It's also good practice to urinate soon after sexual activity, as this can help clear out bacteria that might have entered the urethra, reducing the risk of a UTI.

To keep the genital area clean and reduce the risk of infection, always wash or wipe the area moving away from the urethra  (i.e. moving from the front to the back). This practice supports the health of your urinary tract and your overall urinary system.

When to seek medical attention for UTI back pain

If you're noticing lower back pain and it's joining the usual signs of a urinary tract infection, it's time to reach out to seek medical treatment. Getting the right medical advice early on when you're dealing with this kind of pain, especially if it's alongside other UTI symptoms, is really important and will help you to clear up the infection quickly.