Back pain from sneezing is a common result of an innocent and virtually uncontrollable trigger. Sneezing is a reflex action in response to some irritant or health issue. It is almost impossible to prevent yourself from sneezing all the time. For patients who suffer flare-ups of back pain when sneezing, this situation can be a frightening torture each time a sneeze feels imminent.
It should be made clear that sneezing is not a pathological activity and will certainly not be the likely cause of back pain unto itself. In virtually all instances, sneezing will simply act as a trigger for pain to begin through various mechanisms which will be detailed during the course of this discussion.
This dialog provides an interesting view of the relationship between sneezing and the acute flare-up of back pain.
We often receive letters from concerned patients telling how they were struck with sudden and often very severe back pain following a violent sneeze. These people are often terrified that such an innocent occurrence could have such a profound and horrific effect on their health and are literally begging for help in getting rid of their pain or at least in understanding it better.
In many instances, these letters come from people with existing chronic back pain that is known to worsen with various trigger mechanisms, including sneezing, or any type of jarring motion or action. In other cases, there is no history of back pain, but an extreme presentation appears out of nowhere after a particularly violent sneeze.
Rarely, we receive a different type of letter from a person who has chronic allergies or some long-term health issue that makes them prone to sneezing often and vigorously. Over time, some of these people begin to suffer the onset of back pain, rarely in acute form, but more of a dull, sore nature that is widespread across much of the musculature of the dorsal region.
Let’s look at the typical case of back pain from sneezing first. In these instances, pain may or may not be an existing burden, but sneezing causes a sudden and torturous presentation of symptoms, most often in the lower back, but occasionally in the upper back or neck. What could possibly be happening in these scenarios to warrant such agonizing pain?
The most logical explanation is that the mind is using the trigger of sneezing as the perfect opportunity to commence an ischemia pain syndrome. Oxygen deprivation back pain can occur very quickly, especially when the mind is trying to give the syndrome structural plausibility by acute presentation. This makes the event seem linked to some injury. We see these cases often and usually, the patient has a history of tension in the back muscles and a particular personality type that tends to attract such mindbody interactions. Of course the pain seems so physically-motivated that this most logical explanation is rarely considered by doctors or, more importantly, by the patient themselves, providing the perfect smokescreen for the condition to blossom into a real health crisis that might lead to chronic symptomology.
However, not all cases of acute onset are due directly to mindbody trigger mechanism. Some people are tense and may suffer actual muscular strain from a strong sneeze. Healthy, flexible back muscles will not be susceptible to this type of injury, but stiff, taut and imbalanced muscles might. Stress is a primary reason for this type of chronic muscular tension. Tense muscles are more easily injured, which might explain some strong pain problems which begin immediately after sneezing. However, these types of structural pain will not endure, and should resolve within a few hours to a few days. If they persist, structural injury is unlikely as the true cause.
Far less commonly, pressure in and around the spine can lead to spontaneous herniation or rupture of a spinal disc. In the elderly or in compromised individuals, low bone density might contribute to compression fractures due to the strain of a violent sneeze. These circumstances will both leave obvious evidence of their occurrence and it must be mentioned that neither disc herniation, nor compression fracture, will inherently necessitate pain, as many cases are completely asymptomatic, especially at onset.
Cases where patients have a history of chronic sneezing often involve repetitive strain of the back muscles, particularly in unhealthy and unfit people. In less common cases, there might be some underlying source of muscular or spinal pain that is being continuously exacerbated by the repetitive sneezing. All of these circumstances should be investigated by a physician or physical therapist for best outcomes.
It is virtually impossible not to sneeze, at least sometimes. Therefore, it is best to approach the problem from a holistic point of view and undermine the chances of suffering back pain by quality prevention efforts:
Second, be sure to keep your back in good shape and strong using exercises and stretches. I detail my own personal program of fitness in my acclaimed book: Back Exercises and Stretches, which is a part of our comprehensive pain relief program.
Third and most importantly, realize that sneezing is most likely not the actual source of pain, but merely a trigger for it to begin convincingly. The underlying reasons for the pain include chronic muscular tension and the susceptibility to mindbody health issues that have become epidemic problems in today’s modern world. Work on yourself psychologically in order to undermine these mechanisms using a program of knowledge therapy and proactive introspection. You will be amazed at how much more effective back pain prevention is compared to treating existing pain, regardless of the source.
Finally, if you suspect an actual structural issue being responsible for your back pain from sneezing, seek out qualified medical evaluation. Be wary of having a scapegoat condition blamed as the source, since most spinal abnormalities are innocuous and incidental. If you do your research and demand a second opinion on any structural diagnosis, you will stack the odds of successful resolution of pain in your favor.