Lower Back Pain When Sneezing: What You Need To Know

A powerful sneeze can catch anyone off-guard. While it’s not a problem for most people, it can be agony for others when sneezing brings on sharp lower back pain.

What’s happening when you experience back pain when sneezing? Is this something you need to worry about? We’re going to take a look at the causes of this painful issue and how to deal with it.

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We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Lower back pain, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is happening when you sneeze?

Sneezing is a powerful, involuntary action that clears your nose of any irritants, such as pollen, dust, and smoke, among others.

Violent sneezes can leave you in agony due to how the body “processes” a sneeze. As you breathe in at the start of a sneeze, the pressure in your abdomen and spinal canal increases. As your body completes the sneeze, it expels all that pressure with a lot of force.

Sneezes can reach up to 100 miles per hour.¹ You can see how sneezing could hurt if you have underlying medical issues. 

What could be causing lower back pain when you sneeze?

Given all the pressure transfers in your body during a sneeze, you can imagine how painful that forceful expulsion is going to be if you have any of the following issues.  

Sciatica/Herniated disc

Sciatica arises from pressure or damage to the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the foot.² Symptoms include dull or sharp pain, a burning sensation, numbness, tingling, or weakness.

These typically affect the lower back or one side of the lower body. If your sciatica symptoms worsen during a sneeze, you may have a herniated disc, which might require medical attention.

Vertebral compression fracture (VCF)

VCF happens when part of your vertebra collapses, which is more common in people who have osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones.³ For people living with severe osteoporosis, a sneeze may be enough to cause vertebral compression fracture.


There are various types of arthritis, but osteoarthritis is the most common.⁴ The spine is one of the joints most affected by the condition. Cartilage wears down and bones rub against each other, leading to pain and strange sensations.

If you’re living with osteoarthritis, your vertebra won’t have much cushioning, meaning there’s no shock absorption when you sneeze. It can produce a lot of pain.

Pulled muscle

Pulled muscles (or muscle strains) often arise from overexertion, lifting, or twisting.⁵ They’re characterized by a stretch or tear in your muscle fibers. The affected muscles will hurt when you bend, twist, or use them. Typically, strains ease on their own after a few days. If you’re still suffering from the pain of a pulled muscle after a week or two, it’s worth seeing a doctor.

A violent sneeze can cause a pulled muscle in your back, and sneezing can cause a spasm in any existing pulled muscle, adding to your pain.

Try our protective tips to ensure you don’t worsen an existing strain or cause a new one.

How to prevent back pain when sneezing

Stay upright

Don’t fall into the natural hunch forward when you sneeze. Sneezes are very powerful, and more violent ones can put a serious strain on your back.

Most people also turn their heads away from others in a room to sneeze, which is polite, but it’s also dangerous for your neck. By keeping yourself upright and facing forward, you reduce the compression on your vertebrae.

Support yourself

Another thing you can do is place both hands on a surface to support yourself and the natural curvature of your spine. This distributes the pressure from the sneeze more evenly through the body, rather than just taxing your back.

How can you treat lower back pain when sneezing?

If you’ve pulled your back while sneezing, it’s a good idea to reduce vigorous activities. However, you should also continue your daily tasks, and a leisurely walk or swim can help. You can end up stiffer and in more pain if you spend too much time lying down.

You can alleviate the pain by taking anti-inflammatory painkillers, and gentle stretching may help. The following can also provide pain relief.

Cold, heat, or TENS therapy

These therapies are excellent for treating muscular pain.⁶ If you’ve pulled your back with a painful sneeze, it’s a good idea to soothe it with one of these options.

Cold therapy

Narrows blood vessels and contracts the muscles, reducing swelling and pain signals.⁷

  • Apply for 15 to 20 minutes as needed.

  • Avoid if you’ve got muscle spasms or knots as cold can worsen the pain.

Heat therapy

Widens blood vessels and is ideal for cramps, knots, and aches.⁸

  • Up to 20 minutes, three times a day.

  • Avoid within the first 72 hours of an injury as heat can worsen inflammation.

TENS therapy

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) uses a low-voltage electrical current to soothe the muscles and alleviate back pain.⁹ 

  • Provides short-term pain relief.

  • Scientific evidence is lacking, but it works for some people.

  • Consult your doctor before use.

Back brace

Back braces give your spine extra support, reduce strain, and promote good posture. If you’re older, have a previous back injury, osteoporosis, or often experience back pain while sneezing, the extra protection from those powerful sneezes might be a wise choice.

Your doctor will be able to prescribe a brace regimen, together with a program to build up your core strength, so you don’t become dependent on a brace. They’re a great tool for preventing re-injury, although you should only wear them as prescribed by a clinician to avoid muscle atrophy.

When should you see a doctor if you’re experiencing lower back pain when sneezing?

You should seek medical help if your symptoms don’t improve or worsen after a couple of weeks. If you often have back pain while sneezing, it’s worth scheduling a checkup with your healthcare provider.

Seek urgent medical care if you have any of these together with lower back pain:

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

  • Loss of sensation in your lower back, hips, groin, or legs

  • Back pain that shoots down your leg to below the knee

  • Previous cancer diagnosis

  • Other sudden symptoms, such as abdominal pain or high fever

The lowdown

Experiencing lower back pain when you sneeze can be a worry. This symptom can be caused by several issues, from a simple muscle strain to a herniated disc.

There are things you can do at home to ease the pain if you’re in agony after a powerful sneeze. Anti-inflammatory painkillers, heat or cold therapy, and gentle exercise are excellent ways to move towards feeling normal.

However, if your pain lasts more than a couple of weeks, or if there are any associated symptoms, it is important to seek medical care to ensure any underlying issues are immediately addressed.

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