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Infection and Back Pain

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 17 Feb 2013 |
Back Pain Infection Urinary Tract

Back pain can be a symptom of a number of different bacterial infections, including infections in the urinary tract, or in the spine.

Urinary Tract Infections

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are infections of any part of the urinary system, which includes:
  • The kidneys - which filter the blood and produce urine
  • The ureters - which carry the urine to the bladder
  • The bladder - which stores the urine
  • The urethra - which carries the urine out of the body

They are more common in women than men. Men can also develop infections in the prostate, the gland that supports sperm production.

Urinary tract infections are generally caused by bacteria from the outside of the body moving upwards into the urinary tract, though some infections are caused by bloodstream infections entering the kidney and moving down the urinary tract. Doctors will treat these with antibiotics. Drinking plenty of water, and not waiting too long to urinate may prevent urinary tract infections.

Bladder Infections

An infection of the bladder is known as cystitis. Symptoms include lower back pain, and frequent and painful urination, with pain particularly in the middle of urination.

Infections of the Urethra

An infection of the urethra is known as urethritis. This can also cause back pain, and pain or stinging, particularly at the beginning of urination.

Kidney Infections

Kidneys infections are known as pyelonephritis. When kidneys become infected, they become inflamed and this can cause pain in the back, on both sides of the spine above the hips. People often describe the pain from a kidney infection as a sharp ache or tenderness, and it may come in waves. It can be worse when the bladder is full. People with a kidney infection may also have a fever and chills. They may find urination painful, and may see blood in their urine. Severe kidney infections can lead to kidney damage and failure.

Prostate Infections

An infection in the prostate (the gland that supports sperm production) is known as acute bacterial prostatitis. This is usually linked with a urinary tract infection, and can cause lower back pain, as well as fever, frequent urination, and pain on urination.

Infections of the Spine

Spinal infections can be in the bones of the back (the vertebrae), known as osteomyelitis, or the discs between the vertebrae, known as discitis. Spinal infections can cause tenderness and back pain, which may be severe, and which usually gets worse with weight-bearing exercise.

The most common cause of spinal osteomyelitis is a bacterial urinary tract infection that spreads to the bone. It is occasionally caused by a fungal infection.

Doctors treat osteomyelitis and discitis with antibiotics, but treatment may take a long time. Patients may need to wear a back brace, or be put in a body cast to protect against bone damage.

Tuberculosis (historically called consumption) is a bacterial infection that usually affects the lungs, but it can also affect the spine and the long bones, causing pain. Tuberculosis infection can weaken and damage the vertebrae. If these collapse, it can cause paralysis. Doctors treat tuberculosis with long-term antibiotics.

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