The Link Between Back Pain And The Flu

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Every year millions of Americans take to bed stricken with the flu. The flu, known as influenza, is a nasty virus that is often accompanied by a series of unpleasant symptoms including nausea, fever, sore throat, fatigue, dry cough, runny nose and back pain.

Back pain? That’s right many flu sufferers often experience lower back pain as part of their flu symptoms. The back pain itself can run the gamut from an annoying discomfort to throbbing aches and tender skin. Although not all flu sufferers find their symptoms include back pain, those who do will suffer back pain as long as the flu virus persists. The good news is that as the flu virus works its way through the body, the intensity of the back pain will subside. 

Why Back Pain?

The most common question people want to know is why the flu causes pain the back when back pain is not a commonly accepted symptom of influenza. It’s no secret that aches and pains are common with the flu, it’s why we feel drained and achy constantly, but prolonged and severe back pain just isn’t typical.

In fact it is exactly those same aches and pains associated with the flu that cause such excruciating back pain for some. When you have the flu elevated levels of molecules known as cytokines and chemokines, which are created by cells affected by flu. Both cytokines and chemokines are pro-inflammatory which simply means they encourage inflammation. When the levels of both of these molecules are elevated higher than usual for influenza, severe back pain is often the result.

Pre-Existing Back Pain

While there are plenty of people who experience back pain during bouts of flu, there is another reason that back pain and flu are often linked; a history of back pain. If you have recently injured your back or suffer from chronic back pain, this pain will often resurface as part of flu symptoms. Again, those aches and pains commonly found in flu sufferers will bring out the back pain again.

Sometimes however the link between back pain and flu, is simply happenstance. The flu is a very common virus and many people suffer from the flu every single year. With high numbers in both populations it is quite likely they will overlap on occasion.


Seeking relief from flu symptoms can be accomplished by a visit to your primary care physician or over the counter medications. Many of these medications contain ingredients to fight specific symptoms include fever, aches & pains, and a dry cough. Unfortunately the pain killers found in flu medications will do scant little to help relieve severe back pain.

Before you can seek relief however, you need to visit your doctor to confirm that you have the flu rather than some other sickness. Because most flu symptoms are found in other illnesses like a kidney infection or urinary tract infection and sometimes a severe cold, you want to make sure the right sickness is being treated. Additionally if you do not have the flu, you definitely want to find out why you have severe back pain.

Flu-related back pain may require an additional set of medications. Whether you use traditional treatments for back pain or alternative treatments for back pain, relieving that pain is unlikely to be accomplished using flu meds. You don’t want to cause flu symptoms to worsen so treat back pain beginning with the least invasive forms of pain relief that will not slow down your flu recovery.

Obviously exercising is not an effective way to treat flu related back pain, but topical creams and painkillers are. Just make sure you’re not taking too much acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as these are often contained in flu medications. 

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  1. karen mathes says

    I just want to thank you for having an explanation of why my back is in so much pain. I am suffering from the flu and I just couldn’t understand why my back was hurting me so bad .

  2. John says

    Interesting. Whenever I get a flu, I feel a heavy discomfort in my back, maybe from my spine and also feel extreme cold. It stops after I take a pill and then I start sweating.

  3. Debbra says

    I am grateful for this information. I am three days into the flu and the back pain is awful. I am relieved to know that this too shall pass.

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