Can a Sneeze Lead to Back Pain?

Can I throw my back out by sneezing? Did a sneeze cause my back pain? Can I sneeze so hard I hurt my back? These all might sound like funny questions, but it’s not implausible as it may seem. We receive many questions related to sneezing and back pain, so it’s actually an important issue to discuss.

The Anatomy of a Sneeze

A sneeze is known as a respiratory reset because of its ability to clear out the airways. Whether triggered by dust, pepper or sunlight, the sneeze sensor in the nose (or eyes) alerts the brain which makes a series of reactions occur. These actions include reflexively taking a deep inhale, closing your eyes and opening your mouth. Elsewhere in the body, your diaphragm contracts to  produce pressure. Yes, you can sneeze with your eyes open and no, contrary to urban legend, your eyeballs will not shoot out of your head. However, you shouldn’t go against your body’s natural reflexes and many are there to protect you from injury.

Ever wonder why you sneeze multiple times? This is most likely due to the body not feeling like the irritant was taken care of with one sneeze. And if you’ve noticed some particularly loud sneezers in your family (aka “the dad sneeze) there’s a physiological explanation for that too. Loud sneezers typically have a larger lung capacity, so they can inhale more air and produce those ear-piercing monster sneezes.

Can a Sneeze Cause Back Pain?

It’s hard to believe that something as natural as a sneeze could cause pain in the spinal region. For many of us who have led active lives, we’ve probably put our bodies through more rigorous activity. Whether it’s playing football or lifting heavy objects, most of us have pushed our bodies and came away unscathed from the experience. So it seems almost absurd that a simple second of a sneeze could then affect your spinal health.

In fact, a sneeze is considered one of the most powerful body functions. It carries a force 30 times greater than your average breath and can propel the air in your lungs out at a rate of 10 miles per hour, similar to the speed of a violent cough. It’s commonly accepted advice among health care experts that sneezes shouldn’t be held in because of the pressure they create.

Sneezing, particularly if it’s done in a way that jerks your body, can lead to spine injuries such as slipped or herniated discs, upper and lower back spasms or a general feeling of back pain. In the most extreme scenario, a sneeze has the potential to lead to limb paralysis. Many times injuries occur that we don’t notice. That is until a sneeze occurs. The force of a sneeze can push a hidden injury over the edge to the point where it then causes pain.

How to Ensure a Safe Sneeze

It might seem silly to read directions on how to sneeze, but many of our sneezing habits can put us at risk for damage. While a sneeze may be an involuntary action, there are some steps you can take to promote safe sneezing and protect your back in the process.

Don’t hold in a sneeze.

It may seem polite to hold in a sneeze while in a conversation with someone or when you’re watching a movie or listening to a lecture. But it’s better to let it out. Why? Because holding in a sneeze can risk all types of complications, everything from ruptured ear drums to damaged blood vessels. Everyone sneezes and it’s such a fleeting disturbance that it’s sure to be forgotten the moment it passes. After all, have you ever remembered anyone’s sneeze?

Use your inner elbow as a sneeze guard.

We all know it’s important to keep your sneezes to yourself, but the way you do this matters. Avoid jerking your head or twisting your body quickly to sneeze away from people. This quick movement coupled with the force of a sneeze can lead to injury. Instead, simply bring the crook of your elbow up to your nose and mouth and let your sneeze fully go into your inner elbow. This keeps your hands germ-free and reduces the risk of injury to your body.

Sneeze upwards.

Sometimes it’s not the sneeze that causes injury. Instead, sometimes a sneeze can exacerbate a condition that already exists and the sneeze can end up being blamed for the pain sensation. If you have a chronically painful back, get in the habit of lifting your head upwards to lessen the pressure on your lower back as you sneeze. This should help relieve some of the discomfort experienced during a sneeze.

Non-Invasive Options for Back Pain

Whether you have a “bad back” from an old injury or it’s a recent development, it’s reassuring to know that there are multiple therapies and options for reducing the discomfort of back pain. Spinal issues can run the gamut from herniated discs to stenosis and spinal degeneration. Here at Oakland Spine our Butler Spine Program uses an innovative, non-surgical computerized traction table to gently separate the vertebrae and decompress the spine. This safe and pain-free process helps reduce the size of herniated discs and resolves many chronic pain issues.

Back Pain From Sneezes Deserves Attention

If you notice you continuously have back pain during or after sneezing, it’s a good idea to have this examined by a healthcare professional. If you’re in the North Jersey region, the chiropractic team at Oakland Spine & Physical Therapy is here to help address all of your back pain issues. With offices in Oakland, Fair Lawn, Closter, and Wayne, New Jersey, we help patients end the cycle of chronic pain and find relief without prescription drugs or invasive surgery.

Sneezes shouldn’t hurt, but if they do, it could be a warning sign from your body that’s wise to listen to. There are ways to diagnose and minimize back pain through non-invasive methods. Reach out to our knowledgeable staff to schedule a consultation.