Creatine is a common supplement taken by fitness enthusiasts to increase the intensity of their workout and shorten recovery time. While creatine generally supplies muscles with energy, aspects of its use can lead to back pain. If you take this supplement and begin to experience back pain, there may be a link between the two.
Creatine helps facilitate the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which provides muscles with energy to contract. Creatine is produced by the body, but is also found in protein-rich foods like lean, red meat and fish. Pills and drinks are available as supplements.
Supplementing creatine, usually in combination with a simple carbohydrate to increase its effects, means that your muscles will have more energy to work. Whether you’re sprinting or weightlifting, you will be able to perform with more intensity as your muscles are equipped with more energy.
Suggested dosages of this supplement vary widely. Generally, there is a loading phase in which your muscles become saturated with creatine. This takes about a week and involves high doses, averaging around 20 grams a day. After this time, a maintenance dose of about 5 grams a day may be taken to keep levels high in your muscles. Though there is no strict evidence that it is necessary, most who use the supplement cycle it, using it for 2 or 3 months and then resuming after a month of disuse.
Aside from improving workouts, the supplement is used to treat disorders involving muscle weakness like heart failure, muscular dystrophy, ALS, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.
Creatine causes muscles to hold water. The harder muscles work, the more blood supply they need. Blood contains fresh water, electrolytes, nutrients and oxygen. An inadequate amount of fluid in the body reduces the amount of blood and electrolytes sent to and absorbed by muscles. Muscle cramps may develop due to insufficient fluid intake while using creatine.
You may feel muscle cramps anywhere, but the lower back is a common site for muscular pain in general. Whatever your activity, the lower back is both highly mobile and load-bearing. Lower back cramping can be a sign that you aren’t getting enough fluids while taking creatine. If you’re drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day and still experiencing cramps, you may need to lower your dosage.
To prevent dehydration, avoid working out in hot environments or for long periods of time after ingesting creatine.
Though there is no conclusive evidence, it is possible that drastically increasing the level of creatine in the body can harm the kidneys. Creatine creates a substance called creatinine that the kidneys must filter out. It is thought that a dramatic, prolonged increase in creatinine can overwork the kidneys and cause damage.
There are only a handful of case studies that link kidney problems with creatine, and some of those involve people who already had kidney dysfunction. Simply because it is rare does not mean that the possibility should be ignored, however. It is recommended that people with kidney problems, taking medications that can cause kidney problems such as NSAIDs, those under 18 and pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use creatine.
Kidney pain is felt in the flank area of the back, between the rib cage and the hip bone. It is generally sharp and tender to the touch. You may also experience muscle soreness if the kidney is inflamed and pressing on the muscles of the lower back. If you experience sharp lower to mid back pain along with changes in urine, seek medical attention and discontinue creatine use.
Creatine is a reliable supplement for boosting your workout, but it does come with some risks. Make sure you know the possible disadvantages of any supplement and practice safe use.