A good starting point in understanding low back pain with diverticulitis is to define what diverticulitis actually is. In cases of diverticulitis, the colon bulges out into “pouches” along weak spots in the colon wall, usually in the sigmoid colon that runs along the left side of the abdomen. These balloon-like pouches are then called diverticula. Many people have diverticulosis without any idea they’ve got it–it’s estimated that between ages 60 and 80, half the people in the U.S. have diverticulitis. When the diverticula become infected or inflamed, the condition is escalated to diverticulitis. When it advances to full-blown diverticulosis, serious complications can arise such as:
• intestinal blockages from scarring
Often, diverticulitis doesn’t show any symptoms, but in some cases it can result in abdominal pain and tenderness, nausea, vomiting, change in bowel habits or cramping. It can also result in back pain; since there are so many possible causes for lower back pain, it’s easy for a physician to overlook diverticulitis as a potential culprit. Sometimes the pain can even spread to the scrotum, buttocks, hips, thighs, legs, and even shoulder and neck. Obviously this complicates diagnosis even further.
Cases where diverticulitis cause back pain are more common among women and the elderly, or people who are otherwise compromised. What makes it dangerous is that especially among an elderly person or someone with other complications, having diverticulitis advance to the point of back pain means that it’s much more dangerous and harder to treat. An advanced case of diverticulitis can result in a fistula, a connection of the tissues between organs (such as the bladder). That can mean an infection that’s spread to the other organ and the organs sharing their contents, which adds up to a full-blown emergency.
Unfortunately, that sort of back pain can also arise from things like kidney stones or gall bladder problems, among many other things that aren’t related to the muscle strain or orthopedic problems that usually cause back pain. It can make for a scenario where the pain is extremely difficult to accurately diagnose and treat. Your physician will probably start by ruling out the obvious (strenuous activity or the wrong mattress), then work his way to the less-obvious.
The good news is that diverticulitis will most likely present other symptoms other than just back pain (i.e. the nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, irritable bowel and others we discussed earlier). And remember that before it advances to diverticulitis, diverticulosis often goes for years without showing any symptoms whatsoever. It’s an unusual case of diverticulitis (or diverticulosis) that only causes back pain without any other problems. If your back pain is coupled with other symptoms that would point toward diverticulitis, consider getting a reference for a gastroenterologist from your MD. The gastroenterologist will probably want to do a colonoscopy and run additional tests to narrow down the causes and try to discover any problems with diverticulitis, diverticulosis or other bowel disorders.