The Effects of Dehydration on Your Back

If you’re suffering from back pain, you may not realize that dehydration could be causing it. What a lot of people don't know is that dehydration and back pain can actually be related. Let’s take a look at what exactly happens in your body when you’re dehydrated and how you can avoid dehydration-related back pain.

What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration is the state of not having enough water in the body. When your body uses and excretes more fluid than it takes in, you can become dehydrated.

Anyone can become dehydrated. However, as you read more below, you’ll see why dehydration is more common in certain groups. Children and the elderly are particularly prone to dehydration.

What Causes Dehydration?

While dehydration can happen to anyone who doesn’t drink enough water, there are causes that speed up dehydration or factors that make people predisposed to it.


Infants and young children, as well as older adults, have a lower volume of water in the body. This means that any additional causes of dehydration, such as those listed below, can propel them into dehydration quickly. Also, these polar ends of the age spectrum may have difficulty recognizing when they need to drink water and being able to act on that need.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Gastric upset, namely vomiting and diarrhea, is a common way to become dehydrated. Having a sick stomach doesn’t just flush water out of the system; your body also loses electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals present in the body that help it function on a cellular level. Loss of electrolytes can result in cramps, confusion, and even death if severe enough.


A fever can cause excess sweating, which can cause dehydration (see below). It can also make you less likely to eat and drink to replenish fluids naturally.


Sweating can easily cause dehydration, as you’ve probably experienced after a good workout. Not only do you lose water when you sweat, but you lose electrolytes too. You may have felt salt on your skin after a heavy sweat.

You don’t have to be exercising to sweat to the point of dehydration. Hot weather, overdressing, menopause, and certain medical conditions can also cause sweating. People who work outside, especially in strenuous jobs, are at risk for dehydration too. 

Climate and Geography

If you live in a dry climate, you may find yourself more easily dehydrated as the air naturally pulls water from everything around it. Living at a higher altitude can also make you dehydrated more quickly because it causes you to breathe faster. Rapid breathing increases urination, which flushes out fluids more rapidly.

Diabetes and Certain Medical Conditions

People with diabetes often have difficulty managing their fluid balance. They may have kidney disease as well, which further predisposes them to dehydration. There are numerous medical conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), that also cause dehydration.


Heavy menstrual periods mean greater blood loss for women. Since a high volume of blood is composed of water, this can result in monthly dehydration.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Both pregnancy and breastfeeding put an increased demand on the body for water. Women who are expecting or lactating need to consume extra water just to maintain their baseline requirements.

Medications and Supplements

Some medications and over-the-counter supplements may cause dehydration. In addition to diuretics and laxatives, which you would expect to cause fluid loss, drugs like antihistamines, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants can precipitate dehydration. Dandelion and watercress supplements are two examples of natural supplements that increase urination and can, therefore, cause dehydration.

Low-Carbohydrate Diets

Carbohydrates help the body hold onto water. If you are on a low-carb diet, you need to consume extra water because you’ll be urinating much more frequently.

Drinking Caffeine and Alcohol

Your body needs water to process alcohol and caffeine internally. If you drink caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, try alternating them with one large glass of water.


Your adrenal glands work overtime when you’re stressed out. If your adrenals become too taxed, they can stop producing aldosterone, which helps the body manage your fluid and electrolyte levels.

What Are the Symptoms of Dehydration?

Surprisingly, thirst is not the first symptom of dehydration. By the time you’re thirsty, you may already be low on fluid. Of course, infants and young children can’t always tell you when they are thirsty or don’t feel well. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of dehydration for people of all ages:

  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Bad breath
  • Thick nasal mucus
  • Dry eyes or blurry vision
  • Inability to produce tears (common with babies)
  • Not urinating for many hours during the day (no wet diaper with infants)
  • Sunken eyes, cheeks, or fontanelle (soft spot at the top of a baby’s skull)
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability or nonsensical anger
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Muscle cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Confusion or cloudy thinking
  • Skin tenting (skin remains “tented” when you pinch it)
  • Dry skin
  • Fever
  • Dark colored urine

Your urine should normally be the color of light straw--a pale yellow-green color. The darker your urine, the more dehydrated you are. Checking your urine is one of the easiest and most reliable ways to see if you’re dehydrated.

Can Dehydration Produce Complications?

If not corrected, dehydration can produce serious complications and eventually lead to death. The following are the most common complications of dehydration:

  • Heat injury: you can develop heat exhaustion or heat stroke as a result of being severely dehydrated. Heat injury is common during extremely hot weather and after vigorous exercise without fluid replenishment. Signs of heat injury include extreme cramping, incoherent talking, falling, fainting, and loss of consciousness.
  • Damage to the kidneys and urinary system: long-term dehydration or repeated episodes of dehydration can lead to kidney stones, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and kidney failure.
  • Seizures: severe electrolyte imbalance resulting from dehydration can cause seizures, which can range from mild episodes to a loss of consciousness.
  • Shock: hypovolemic shock happens when your blood volume gets too low. Typically this happens as the result of blood loss, but it can occur during dehydration as well. Hypovolemic shock can, in turn, lead to death.
back pain from dehydration

How Is Dehydration Related to Back Pain?

Another symptom of dehydration is back pain. You read above that dehydration can cause joint pain, and that includes the joints of the spine.

The vertebrae in your spine are cushioned with discs, little fluid-filled, jelly-like sacs that act like the suspension in your car to absorb shock and help the vertebrae move freely. Think of them as both support and protection for your spine.

Those discs are nearly three-fourths liquid. The fluid in your discs comes from the water you drink, so it’s no wonder that if you become dehydrated, your spine can suffer.

Your spinal discs shrink anyway during the course of the day, with your body replenishing their liquid at night. But if you’re dehydrated, it’s a double whammy your body has to compensate for while you sleep. And until you rehydrate, you may experience back pain of varying degrees commensurate with your fluid loss.

When the discs in your back become really dehydrated, they can bulge and cause even more pain. Walking, performing exercise, or doing the simplest chores can cause terrible discomfort. Therefore, it’s vital to stay hydrated for optimum spinal health.

What Are the Benefits of Staying Hydrated?

While it’s obviously wise to stay hydrated for the function of your spine, there are so many other benefits to drinking enough water.

Healthy Skin

Your skin soaks up water from the inside like a sponge, and of course, it’s the body’s largest organ. When you stay hydrated, you see the results almost right away, in plumper, rosier skin that heals from wounds faster and protects the body better from cold.

Boosted Energy

Because all the cells in your entire body rely on water, when you’re hydrated, it’s like an engine that’s just been tuned up with all the right fluids. Often, when we feel fatigued and think about eating something sugary, what we really need is water. Try drinking a glass of water first before indulging in that sweet and you may find most of the time you don’t even want it once you’re not thirsty.

Better Sports Performance

As well as fueling all the cells for your muscles, connective tissue, and nerves, water helps your body produce natural synovial fluid, a lubricant for your joints. Without adequate hydration, you may find your joints creak and your body feels years older than it actually is. Don’t forget too that your blood is largely water, so to keep your cardiovascular system pumping, water is essential.

Fewer Toxins

In order to flush toxins from your body, your liver, kidneys, and the skin need water. When you stay hydrated, you help your body remove waste more efficiently so it doesn’t accumulate or remain in the bloodstream.

Weight Control

Water fills you up and keeps you from overeating if you time your drinks right. Drink a glass of water before meals to help manage portion size and substitute water for alcohol to cut back on eating due to the lack of inhibition you feel when under the influence.

Improved Digestion

Water helps your body process nutrients in your intestines so you get more of the good stuff out of your diet. Also, it aids with motility to keep food moving through your digestive system and therefore prevents constipation.

Clearer Thinking

Your brain needs water too! Make sure to drink enough water to fend off foggy thinking. 

Resistance to Illness

When you get dehydrated, your mucosal secretions become dried out like glue. But you need that mucus to fight germs so you don’t get sick. If you blow your nose and yellow stuff comes out, it doesn’t always mean you have an infection; it could be you’re just severely dehydrated.

How Can You Maintain Proper Hydration Every Day?

It’s easy to stay properly hydrated if you give it a little effort, and it’s well worth it in the long run. Here are some tips to stay adequately quenched so your body runs smoothly and you avoid problems like dehydration-induced back pain.

  • Set a timer and drink regularly throughout the day. Use your phone or a kitchen timer, whether you’re at work or at home.
  • Keep a filled water bottle with you wherever you go. Buy a few extras so you have one at the office, at the gym, and on your nightstand.
  • Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning when you awaken and at night before you go to sleep.
  • Add a squirt of fresh citrus or a few strawberries to water to make it taste better.
  • If your tap water is undrinkable, buy bottled water or get a pitcher with a built-in filter. Keep a pitcher in the fridge and refill it at least once per day. You can also purchase a water cooler like many offices have.
  • Drink decaffeinated coffee in place of caffeinated.
  • Eat foods that are filled with water, like melon, berries, grapefruit, and leafy greens.
  • Consider reducing the severity of your low-carb diet. Rather than following a strict keto or Paleo diet, for example, just cut back on the number of carbs you eat instead of eliminating them altogether.
  • When working out, if you’re losing electrolytes to sweat, you may need to take a salt tablet to compensate. You can also try adding a pinch of regular table salt to a sports drink to help retain fluid in the right balance.
  • Use a humidifier if you live in a dry or high-altitude location. A humidifier is also ideal during winter months in cold climates when you run your heat all the time.

If you have back pain that comes and goes without any apparent cause, you might want to try drinking more water to see if that helps. You may find that once your discs are hydrated, your back pain disappears. If you try improving your hydration for a week or so with no improvement, it may be time to call the chiropractor to look for other causes of your back pain. At True Spine Chiropractic, we can do a thorough examination and help you improve the health of your back. Let us know how we can assist you today.

To schedule a complimentary consultation with Dr. Hallmeyer, call our Bend office at 541-848-6834. You can also click the button below.

If you are outside of the local area, you can find an Upper Cervical Doctor near you at

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Bend, Oregon 97703
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