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Lower Back, Adrenal Glands, And Chronic Pain

Year after year lower back pain is the leading contributor to missed work. Chances are good you will experience it at least once in your life. You may even know somebody who has lost a job or been severely debilitated. Many of the common forms of treatment are surgery, physical therapy, painkillers, and chiropractic spinal adjustments.

But what these procedures are missing, is one of the most common causes of lower back pain…

Adrenal gland stress.

The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys (renals) and are about the size of a walnut. They are responsible for many different hormones in the body, especially adrenaline. But they are also involved in blood sugar regulation, sex hormone production and the balancing of electrolytes such as potassium and sodium.

Under acute stress (lack of sleep, overwork, environmental pollutants, diets high in refined carbohydrates, overheating or overchilling, and emotional and mental stress) the adrenal glands increase their production of hormones as they are working harder to respond to the stress situation. This is beneficial, however, when the stress never ends (which is the norm rather than the exception in our society) the adrenals get tired and can’t perform their functions.

Once they get tired it takes more and more stimulants like caffeine to get you going, which further deplete the adrenals leading to exhaustion. Once they are exhausted, and often before, the adrenals will give you warning signs they are not working correctly.

Here are some of the more common:

  • Bright lights bother your eyes (constant need for sunglasses)
  • Tired/sore feet at the end of the day
  • Shin splints
  • You get dizzy when you stand up
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatigue
  • Lower back, pelvis and ankle pain

In Applied Kinesiology, it has been found that lower back and knee/ankle stability is dependent on the adrenal glands. When the adrenals start to fail, there is a predictable set of muscles that will also start to fail. Keeping this discussion to the lower back, the muscles that are most important are the gracilis (one of the major groin muscles), and the sartorius (crosses from the outside of the hip to the inside of the knee).

Both of these muscles help hold the pelvis bones forward. Without the stability of the muscles, the sacroiliac joints on the back of the pelvis become strained. Without correcting the adrenal problem, these pelvis bones have no chance of staying where they need to be. No amount of exercise or chiropractic adjustments will help these muscle or bones regain control.

Quite often, these patients need to keep seeing their chiropractor week after week just to feel well enough for the next week. This is very costly and time inefficient. In some cases the adrenals are so incredibly depleted that one chiropractic adjustment is enough of a nervous system stimulation that the patient will be extremely sore or even in worse pain than before.

A holistic view of the body is very important in dealing with a stressed out society. Fix the cause, not the symptoms. And in these cases the symptoms are pelvis and lower back bones that will not stay in their correct position leading to pain.

A healthy diet, nutritional supplements, plenty of sleep, exercise, and controlling emotional stress all lead to strong adrenal glands, which can withstand the rigors of our modern, hectic lifestyle.

{ 43 comments… add one }
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  • HypoGal February 11, 2011, 11:43 pm

    Dr. Larsen,
    You have posted much needed information about the adrenals. I have Sheehan’s Syndrome and I have adrenal pain whenever I have low cortisol. I found your article informative and I am going to subscribe to your RSS.
    Lisa aka HypoGal

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  • Sheila May 19, 2012, 8:26 am

    I have a question. My husband hurt his lower back, which we don’t fully understand to this day. He was throwing an empty box into the dumpster and felt a pain. Next thing he knew he was “coming to” from being unconcious on the ground. Now ever since he has had aches, pains randomly. Knee is one, ankle is one. Also elbows. Muscular pain all over as well. His Ferritin is always high usually in the 500-600 range. His CPK is always high ranging from 550-1200. He has been to specialist after specialist. Hemachromatosis has been rule out several times over. Glucose within normal limits-diabetes strong in his family. His Aldolase is high 8.8, which normal is under 8. His father had RA. Now everything I read states that a high CPK and Aldolase usually means autoimmune disease. Do you have any insight to this?
    Thank you in advance for any information you can provide.

  • Dan June 9, 2012, 8:54 pm

    I’m sure many people underestimate the adrenal stress as a cause of their back pain. I hope many people will read this. As someone who has studied nutrition for a few years I would suggest an alkalizing diet. Everything in your diet doesn’t need to comprise of alkalizing food, just make sure to get some of these foods into your diet. Fresh raw fruit, freshly homemade vegetable juices, raw tomatoes, fresh pineapple, raw lemon juice, fresh parsley, apples, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is decent list of foods to add to your diet. Fats, specifically raw and unsaturated, along with fish, preferably raw or very lightly cooked can supply the right nutrients and enzymes to soothe your adrenals. This must be more of a life long habit than a quick fix for it to really work.

  • Debi July 5, 2012, 4:31 pm

    Can adrenal glands not funtioning correctly cause overheating? I recently had 2nd double fusion back surgery 6 weeks ago,and have ITP, auto immune disorder, but all of a sudden I am not sweating in the heat and my face gets beat red and eyes are sensitive to light, feet hurt, head hurts, eyes sensative to light similiar to migraines.

  • Dr. Larsen August 2, 2012, 8:35 pm

    Well, I am not sure about that, but your symptoms have some potential adrenal connections. Make sure you get checked out soon.

  • Pat Albert August 27, 2012, 7:16 am

    I am constantly tired. Even in the morning. Recently, my eyesight has started going blurry. When I exercise my face is beet red and I sometimes get a migraine after or at least a headache. I almost always need a nap in the afternoon. I am on thyroid meds for underactive and medicine for my blood sugar (met formin). My back hurts also. Does this sound like an adrenal problem?

  • Dr. Larsen August 27, 2012, 8:34 am

    It sounds like a whole lot of things. The body works as one integrated unit. Thyroid, adrenals, pituitary, and on and on. Your goal should be to get to the root cause of it all. Toxicity, nutrient depletion, stress, etc.

  • Zack September 16, 2012, 11:23 pm

    Hello Doctor,

    A very fascinating read. I only came across this issue after researching back pain after drinking tea. It seems that Caffeine is another factor that stresses out the adrenal glands. My problem after drinking tea is very obvious. And I also tend to have the problem after a night of heavy drinking on a weekend.

    I also have some other issues due to sport which are taking very long to heal. Such as groin injury and lower abdomen muscles. Could this be related to adrenal glands? I also seem to notice that my lower body is very weak and find it difficult to balance when doing certain exercises.

    What remedies would you recommend for healthy adrenal glands and to restore them to their optimal condition? Thank you so much.

  • Dr. Larsen September 18, 2012, 1:29 pm

    Yep, adrenals are a huge issue for the vast majority of Americans. Caffeine is a big factor because it basically whips the tired horse. It’s a stimulant so it pushes the adrenals even harder. Heavy drinking just taxes the body. A person with healthier adrenals can withstand that better than someone who doesn’t have healthy adrenals. One of the first signs of imbalance is structural problems that won’t resolve, just like you mentioned. If this goes uncorrected, it will start to lead to other problems down the road, like depression, etc.

    First off, get good sleep. Critically important for the adrenals and brain function. If you are working out, don’t overtrain. And third, take adaptogenic herbs and supplements that are designed to help support the adrenals.

  • ghada October 28, 2012, 8:43 pm

    Dear Doctor,

    I had a disc herniation in my lumbar l4 and l5, 3 months ago and I have tried all kind of therapy but im not really recovering fast… my doctor asked me to take this injection synacthen depot, i took twice and i got a bad allergy from it.. so wont be able to take it again.
    I read about adernal insufficiency and its sympotoms and I noticed I had almost all of them since long time ago… i drink water allot, I do sports but still, im always dehydrated, im skinny but lately im losing alot of weight and lost my appetite.. also always having low blood sugar and low blood pressure.. other sympotoms all I got. could this mean that I have some problem with my adrenal gland? thanks a lot

  • Maggie December 16, 2012, 6:52 am

    I have Adrenal Insufficiency. Diagnosed in 2011 with a ACTH Stim test. I am currently taking 30 MG of Hydrocortisone daily in (2) doses. I was taken off the .01 MG of Fludrocortisone due to a large increase in blood pressure. I am also anemic. I take 27 MG of elemental iron daily. I weigh 235 pounds..(gained 75 pounds after beginning the hydrocortisone in April of 2011) my iron stores are low as well as low red count. I am also hypothyroid (post surgical). I take 125 of Levothyroxine daily. I am severely depressed. Chronic back pain due to failed back surgeries, have a Internal Spinal Cord Stimulator, it does not provide the pain relief it once did. I’ve had it 10 years. I need to take Percoset 10/325 about 2 times daily to get through the pain around the kidney area and lower back pain. They’ve r/o any kidney problems. My hips are so painful all day long. When I get a massage my MT says she can feel stringy things in the hips leading down to the pelvis. They are just terribly painful. I do walk daily about 1/2 mile, trying to walk more. I am not diabetic. My sugar run a little low most of the time. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to feel better? I greatly appreciate your professional opinion. Thank-you in advance. 🙂

  • Dr. Larsen December 17, 2012, 9:29 am

    Yes, you need to find somebody who can help you build your health from the ground up. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to heal your body. Find somebody in your area. One good website to try would be http://icakusa.com. This isn’t the only group of doctors (I am not even listed in there), but it will be a start. In the meantime, all organic food, pure water (no tap water), and no grains or bad fats.

  • Janet January 22, 2013, 9:09 am

    I have pain in my back where my kidneys are. Can this be because of the spots or masses I have on my adrenal glands? I have a mass on both adrenal glands. I also have pain near the abdomen, but closer to the sides. Evidently the masses were found in 2009, but the Drs did not tell me, my ENT told me and wants me to see a sugeon. I also have back pain that will bring me to my knees, and cramps in my legs.

  • Dr. Larsen January 22, 2013, 11:03 am

    Well, the adrenals sit directly on top of the kidneys. It could definitely cause pain. I would see a doctor about it.

  • Chris Aarhus February 6, 2013, 7:32 pm

    Nice read. I simply looked for back pain and adrenals because I have been working on my adrenals after years of bike racing and Ironman distance triathlons. I had some severe back pain that I could tell was not muscular at all. Very acute and deep. This sounds about right. Good info and I’ll head down the rabbit hole of reading other posts lol. Thanks!

  • Charlie Suits February 25, 2013, 11:14 am

    I was diagnoised with diabetes about three months after cervical spine surgery in 2006. Dispite diets and everything possible I went on insulin about five years ago and diagnoised with type one. I can not control this disease! My sugar goes off the chart!! My doctor just keeps adjusting my meds and doen’t seem to believe that it could be so bad and even stated that I must be doing something wrong!! I am not over weight. I am 5’5 and weigh 135 pounds.Could the adrenal glands be part of the problem? Thank you for the informative information you have provided!!

  • Dr. Larsen February 25, 2013, 1:12 pm

    Hi Charlie,
    In the 21st century, the adrenals are ALWAYS a part of the big picture. Most people are very exhausted. I can’t give specific advice over the internet, but your best bet would be to find an Applied Kinesiologist. Most of them are some of the best practitioners around and will be able to figure out what is going on with you. The website http://www.icakusa.com lists SOME of the practitioners who practice Applied Kinesiology. There are many, many more, but it’s a good start.

  • Sandra March 8, 2013, 3:58 pm

    Hi Dr. Larsen,

    I have never been diagnosed and I am uninsured so I probably won’t be. When I was 18 I started doubled over in pain (in my kidney area) anytime I had caffeine. This pain would last for days. I couldn’t have a glass of coke, tea, etc… I would be doubled over in paid in the fetal position. Nothing seemed to help. So I stay away from Caffeine products. When I was 21 I finished my training and became an EMT. After my first real Emergency call I had these same symptoms. I then realized it was because of the adrenaline. I stopped being an EMT. To this day (I’m 39 now) I still can’t have caffeine and fortunately I haven’t been in an intense situation that caused that pain again. Do you know what causes this? I would love to take natural weight loss supplements but I can’t have the green tea leaf extract. Do you have a guess at what is causing this? Do you have any suggestions other than staying away from caffeine?

  • Dr. Larsen March 9, 2013, 11:17 am

    Hi Sandra,

    Stress is a huge epidemic in our society, and especially adrenal stress since these are the glands that deal with stress. The first thing you need is a complete evaluation by somebody who will evaluate your FUNCTION and NOT just look for disease. Hint: Not a medical doctor. A Neuroinfiniti Stress Response Evaluation will be able to tell you exactly what is happening in your nervous system. This is important since it’s the nervous system that is the master controller of your entire body. There are also various labs tests such as salivary hormone tests that can measure adrenal function. And, there are other functional tests that an Applied Kinesiologist will know how to test. Now to the caffeine…

    Caffeine is a stimulant that impacts the adrenals and stress in the body, however, there is another factor. Some people are very sensitive to caffeine and it’s different breakdown products. This family of chemicals is known as the Methylxanthines and are found in caffeine, cola, chocolate, tea, yerba mate, guarana, and coffee. You may be one of these people and not be able to tolerate any of these foods.

    All in all you need to find somebody who can evaluate you on a functional level.

  • Cathy April 7, 2013, 1:53 pm

    It feels like my right kidney is being pushed down on. A lot of pressure but no pain. Sometimes it feels like a heavy weight on that side. Also extreme fatigue. Some right side pelvic pain. Is this from the adrenal gland. My doctor could not find anything wrong. He felt it could be muscle related.

  • Dr. Larsen April 8, 2013, 11:05 am

    You will need to find an Applied Kinesiologist in your area and have them do an exam on you.

  • GP August 19, 2013, 11:57 am


    Is it possible to have adrenal fatigue and have normal cortisol levels from a saliva test ? I have all the symptoms of AF and have unexplainable lower back pain for several years yet my saliva came back with “normal” results.



  • Dr. Larsen August 21, 2013, 10:37 am

    Yes, it is always a possibility. Lab tests are not perfect, just like any test. And, the body is a master adapter. It’s constantly adapting to its environment to try to keep itself in homeostasis. This could keep something like a lab test within normal range for a longer period, even though the body is struggling.

    Also, adrenal fatigue is different than complete adrenal exhaustion. Most of the people I have seen are in some level of adrenal fatigue/exhaustion. And of course, there could be other reasons for your pain and symptoms, not just the adrenals. The body works as a unit. Your best bet is to find a Quantum Reflex Analysis, Nutrition Response Testing, or Applied Kinesiology practitioner. They will know what to do.

  • WK October 30, 2013, 7:09 am

    Just wanted to thank you for the article.
    I believe that you have answered a question, which I have confused for several years. I always thought it was my kidneys that were causing pain in my lower back. Yet, that pain didn’t coincide with the other things happening with my diet or body. I am a high stress (self employed) and have grown to an unhealthy 450 lbs.. The past few days I have looked into an alternate diet program and doing the research on the viability of the treatment, I am looking into the required holistic treatment of the adrenal glands as an intregral part of the treatment plan.

    My investigation is leading me down a different path than before, this is good.

    I have been self employeed for the past 35 years, not always successful. but usually working.
    after several years I realized the weight gain (at about 350) wasn’t being controlled. (too busy to care).
    looking at my lifestyle,,, restaurant in the morning, coffee and shortstack
    burn out about 10:30 am snickers and a mountain dew
    lunch at 12 or 1,,,
    nap at 2 for 30 to 45 min
    dinner at 5
    back to work till 6,7 … 10 if need be
    late night snack…
    mostly all meals were restaurant,,,,(single male)not a drinker or smoker
    not a great diet,,, but suited the lifestyle, many changes made now but little effect

    I have exhausted myself, several times over the years, and I know it contributes to the issues.

    periodically I would have back pain, I attributed to kidneys, but it never seemed to fit.
    perhaps another answer is here.

    at this point, I have coronary heart disease, am on a CPAP nightly, carrying the weight is taking its toll. Thyroid is low normal and with 3 increases,, still low normal(either the body is not accepting it or ?)
    emotionally I am resigning to the inevitable

    diets have only taken me 50 or 60 lbs and stall,,,i did the workout thing,,, 45 to 50 min aerobic,,daily,,, got stronger but didn’t help the weight loss.

    I tell you all this because,
    although my suspicions may not be correct and this may not be the problem.
    your article allows me the hope.
    to try one more thing, one more time
    thank you

  • Dr. Larsen October 30, 2013, 10:47 am

    Thanks for the feedback. And good luck to you. I hope this solves some of your problems. My recommendation would be to find somebody in your area that can guide you along the way. A coach in sports is very important. Even more so when it comes to health. A qualified doctor will be able to get you where you want to go efficiently. Best of luck.

  • Al Pelaez March 14, 2014, 2:17 pm

    I am very interested in this product. I used to work with a physician who used adrenal supplements to treat lower back pain. The manufacturer was Standard Process.

  • Judith August 16, 2014, 11:37 pm

    I’m just wondering if anyone ever gets over having fatigued adrenals? It’s been 4 long years and although things are better and my diet is good, and I definitely have been getting good sleep and I even greatly reduced my caffeine intake…I still don’t feel 100%. Any general comments or words of wisdom?

  • Dr. Larsen August 17, 2014, 11:43 am

    It can take quite a long time. Good sleep, improved diet, and reduced caffeine are a good start. But, you need to deal with toxins, and increased repair of the body’s organs. This is where the appropriate supplements come in. It’s critical and can’t be left out if a person is to recover.

  • Sandy Roberts December 27, 2017, 11:13 am

    I have Had my Thyroid put to sleep by liquid Radiation. (20Years ago) Then shortlymy right sided kidney decided ot did not like me…Was dx with Glomeral Nephritis of that kidney…Turns out at sametime I was DX with SLE Lupus. – But eventually my Supar Adrenals decided to go to sleep about 15 years ago. Then one day 1 got a headache (,about 12 years ago) Headache was …severe…Saw my Internal med Doc..He immediately sent me for MRI of Brain…turns out that my Pitituary glad skrinked to the point I was then Dignoised with Empty Sella Syndrome.
    With all that said…I do have a question…oh by the way I get all the symptoms listed for adrenal failure..when they flare it’s no fun. OK so question. £(is there research to show how many Western Society (America or United States) have Empty Sella Syndrome. I have been told by 3 Endonologist (one from Baylor Hospital -Dallas 1@ University of Texas Medical Hospital and mine here now in North Carolina) and 2 Internist and my own Physician here that was President of local hospital. He was old enough to retire but he wanted to stay in practice. .My Doctor has done his research and I very much trust him..BUT they all have told me it’s rare. Since your a specialist in Adrenal Glands…I was wondering if you knew….?!
    Sorry for the long text but felt it would help you understand where I am coming from to ask this question.
    Agsin, Thank You.

  • Dr. Larsen December 27, 2017, 11:54 am

    I honestly don’t know the research on Empty Sella Syndrome.

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