Does Dehydration Affect Spinal Health?

Back & Neck Pain / November 21, 2019
Close-up of a person pointing at a vertebra on a human spine model with a pen.

Dehydration is most commonly associated with thirst and fatigue. But, dehydration can affect our spinal health in many ways, not to mention it can exacerbate back pain as well. The average adult body is 50-60% water, and the percentage of water in infants is as high as 75-78% water. That’s how much water is essential to our bodies. From affecting our metabolism and energy levels to our organs and tissues, water is a crucial component to maintain our health in top shape.

The spine actually holds a surprising amount of water, and even the slightest lack of water can trigger adverse effects. At ChiroCare of Florida, our chiropractors are always vigilant of every aspect of your spine’s health, including its water content. Let’s take a closer look at the connection between dehydration and spinal health.

How Does Dehydration Affect the Spine

The spine is responsible for our range of motion, flexibility, and overall strength as well as our ability to remain upright. But beyond that, our spine protects the spinal cord, which accounts for one-half of the central nervous system responsible for almost all functions of the body and mind. So, anything that affects the spine can also affect our internal organs, our immune system, and more.

To understand how dehydration affects the spine, we have to understand how the spine is constructed. The spine is made of intervertebral discs, vertebrae, and cartilage that encase the spinal cord. Think of the intervertebral discs as little jelly balls in-between the vertebrae. Their number one job is to absorb all the energy and shock our vertebrae would receive without them. They are also there to create a barrier between the vertebrae, so they don’t rub against each other, stimulating the wear and tear process.

Each of these discs contains liquid, which has a portion of water. Throughout the day and life, these discs lose and regain water naturally. However, when they lose too much water, it can be more challenging for them to reabsorb all the water they need to function at its best. For more on the spine anatomy and its role in the body, explore our spinal anatomy definitive guide.


When your spinal discs become dehydrated, your spine will become less flexible, hampering mobility. Not only will this result in overall back pain, but it will also affect your quality of life. When spinal discs become dehydrated, the vertebrae are closer to each other, which affects your body’s ability to twist and bend as they should.

Herniated Discs

One of the most common consequences of a dehydrated spine is bulged or herniated spinal discs. When the outer layer of the disc is damaged or weakened, they tend to bulge. If you have a bulging disc, it can add pressure to the spine, as well as the nerves around it, leading to severe localized pain.

Beyond this, when discs are extremely dehydrated and weakened, the risk of them not sustaining the impact increases your chances of suffering a herniated disc. Also, once they become dehydrated they lose mobility as we mentioned before, this means that the discs are even more prone to suffer a herniation if you perform a twist or bend movement. Eventually, dehydrated disc results in moderate to acute localized pain that can also have other dangerous consequences if not treated.

For more on how herniated discs can cause back pain and affect other spine tissues, explore our herniated disc condition page.

Back Pain

Even though at least 80% of adults will experience back pain at one point in their life, dehydration of the spinal discs can worsen this pain. When your discs lose water, they won’t be able to work as shock absorbers, which means your spine will take much of the pressure your discs would receive otherwise. Discomfort in the lower back can be the result of thinned discs or a herniated disc. In addition, back pain can also be the result of an impinged nerve that stemmed from a dehydrated bulging disc. This is why, in many cases, your back pain can be directly related to dehydration.

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration happens when your body is either not taking in enough water, or it is expelling more water than it’s receiving. It’s important to note that dehydration symptoms such as weakness and thirst are expected, however, the signs of dehydrated discs are more difficult to spot.

If you’ve been experiencing back pain in general, keep an eye for these symptoms as they might be alerts your body is sending you to let you know your spinal discs need more water.

Of course, these are symptoms we often associate with other conditions, not dehydration. It’s also important to keep an eye out for traditional dehydration signs to help stay as healthy as possible. Beyond looking out for pain signals, make sure you’re aware if you’re suddenly feeling any of these dehydration symptoms.

Weakness – muscle weakness and overall visual and cognitive tiredness.

Dizziness – lightheadedness and dizziness are a consequence of low blood pressure caused by dehydration.

Mental Status Changes – dehydration also causes confusion and irritability as well as mood changes that can include tension or anxiety.

Dark Urine – the easiest way to note dehydration is through urine. If you spot dark yellow or orange urine, odds are you’re struggling with dehydration. If you start seeing brown urine, this might be a sign of kidney disease, if this is your case, seek medical attention.

Low Blood Pressure – dehydration can lead to a rapid drop in blood pressure.

Rapid Breathing – when you’re struggling with dehydration, your respiratory system doesn’t operate properly. It also restricts the availability of oxygen, so if you’re noticing your breathing changing, it might be a sign of dehydration.

Dry Mouth – perhaps the most visible sign of dehydration. A dry mouth is a sign that your body is rapidly losing water and it needs to hydrate.

It’s important to note that for your spine and health to be affected by dehydration, you don’t have to be severely dehydrated. Not drinking enough water daily can lead to dehydration consequences.

Tips for Staying Hydrated

Beyond staying hydrated to relieve back pain, drinking water is paramount to maintain a healthy body and spine. If you’re looking for easy ways to stay hydrated, follow some of these chiropractic-approved hydration tips.

What If Drinking Water Doesn’t Help?

Even if you’re drinking enough water and you’re working towards keeping your body hydrated, your back pain symptoms may not disappear. There are so many factors that can deteriorate your spinal health beyond dehydration. If you follow the suggestions above and are not noticing any improvements, consider taking further action to address the issue and determine the possible causes.

Explore various therapies, such as chiropractic care or physical therapy. At ChiroCare of Florida, our first step will be to request either an MRI or X-Rays to explore what’s happening with your spine. Image-testing allows our chiropractors to get an insider view of your spine and your intervertebral discs, any bulge or irregularity will easily be seen in the results.

Once our chiropractors have addressed the status of your spinal health, they will most likely recommend a treatment plan to follow. Without a doubt, this new wellness plan will include tips on how to stay hydrated, as keeping your spine hydrated is key. But beyond that, you can also expect them to recommend various treatments, including:

Chiropractic Adjustments – to reduce any misalignments and increase range of motion

Massage Therapy – to soothe tension and soften tissue strains

Laser Treatment – to improve blood circulation and tackle swelling

Ultrasound Therapy – to increase blood flow and alleviate pain

Keep Your Spine Healthy

If you are experiencing back pain, it might be due to dehydration. However, it’s essential to continuously take care of your spine using specific treatments designed to promote overall wellness and spine alignment. A happy spine means a happy life. At ChiroCare of Florida, our caring chiropractors are ready to find the right wellness plan for you. Contact one of our 10 locations across South Florida for more information on our treatments or to schedule an appointment.

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