Why Sneezes Cause Back Pain

a woman sneezing

Centuries ago, people used to carry snuff boxes with them.  Why?  Those little boxes were filled with a substance used to induce sneezing.  The sensation of sneezing was, in the minds of these ancients, highly desirable.  It was a popular amusement enjoyed by the wealthier classes.

Looking back, we wonder if these people stopped using snuff as news traveled by pony express about the dangers of sneezing (no matter how much fun it was for them).  Because you and I both know that sneezing can result in back pain.

But why sneezes cause back pain is kind of interesting, so let’s talk about it.


Nowadays, we all know about how viruses are transmitted.  That’s why we take great pains to cover our mouths when sneezing, so as not to spread germs to others.  But when sneezes sneak up on us (often the case), we may be in the middle of a conversation with someone at close range.  So, what do we do?  We turn our heads, as the “aaaah” becomes the “choo”.

As that happens, our diaphragms experience an intense contraction.  With the head turned to the side, it’s easy to understand how we can hurt our backs, while sneezing.  This action is frequently responsible for the pulled muscles we’ve treated many people for – sustained somewhere between “aaaah” and “choo”.

What comes between “aaaah” and choo? Pressure.

As the sneeze arrives, air is taken in during the “aaaah” portion of the festivities.  It’s then held in suspension until “choo” catches up.  The pressure that builds up in the abdomen is then expelled (rather violently) as we release that air as the grand finale.

But the pressure doesn’t build in your abdomen, alone.  It also builds in your spinal canal.  That pressure build up and release can cause shock to your vertebrae, sometimes resulting in injuries as serious as damage to the discs and nerves.

And that, my friends, is why sneezes cause back pain.  Can you avoid pulled muscles and potential damage to nerves and discs occasioned by sneezing?  Naturally!  Here’s how.

Ready, set, sneeze right!

Avoiding injury to your back and neck while sneezing is as simple as being aware of your posture.  When we sneeze, we tend to first throw back our heads, during the “aaaah” and then bend forward during the “choo”.  This is the natural sneezing posture and the cause of many back injuries.

When the sneeze is on its way, pay attention to your posture.  Consciously straighten and extend your neck and drop your shoulders.  At the same time, pull in your stomach muscles to elongate your lower back.  This will fortify your spine against potential pulls, sprains and damage to nerves and discs.  It may seem a little complicated, but if you practice this posture mindfully, you’ll be less likely to hurt your back over something as silly as a sneeze.

You don’t really want to come see us at Back & Body with a sneeze-related injury, do you?  We’re here if you need to, but we’re sure you don’t.

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