Back Pain And Breathing. Why Does My Back Hurt When I Am Breathing?

Back pain can be caused by many conditions. Although most common injuries to the bony structure, ligaments, and muscles of the lower back. However, various diseases affecting the heart, or lungs could also cause back pain, among other symptoms. 

Some people experience more back pain when breathing in (inhaling). What is the back pain connected with breathing? Let’s review some possible explanations for why backaches are associated with breathing. 

Abnormal spine curvature (scoliosis, kyphosis) 

Scoliosis is the sideways curvature while kyphosis makes the spine curve forward. Mild cases may not cause any symptoms, but moderate and severe spinal deformity can cause back pain. The back pain may get worse over time and lead to trouble breathing or eating. Other symptoms of scoliosis and kyphosis include weakness and numbness in the legs or arms, difficulties when sitting, standing, or walking. Mild forms respond well to conservative measures like anti-inflammatory drugs,  physical therapy, and braces, while severe curvatures of the spine may require surgery. Treatments help improve both back pain and breathing difficulties. 

Broken ribs 

The ribs may break or crack during a chest trauma. This trauma can be caused by a car accident or during contact sports. Ribs can crack and fracture even from sports that involve repetitive movements like golf or in those who experience chronic, severe cough.  

Broken ribs can be quite painful. The pain experienced on the side or back is usually worse when taking deep breaths, pressing on the affected area,  bending or twisting the body. Most broken ribs are minor and resolve in one to two months with anti-inflammatory drugs and ice packs.  However, further investigations like CT scans and MRI may be needed to evaluate the injury of the soft tissues, blood vessels, and organs. Bone density should also be tested because osteoporosis increases the risk of rib fractures and back pain as well. Once the pain subsides, breathing exercises can be useful to avoid the risk of pneumonia. 

Coronary artery diseases (angina, heart attack)

Although coronary artery diseases are well known to cause chest pain some people, especially women- may experience back pain as well. The pain and discomfort are due to the fact that the blood flow is diminished, and the initial pain from the chest radiates to the back. The pain can be felt in the upper back,  neck, shoulders, jaws, and abdomen. Other common symptoms of coronary artery disease are shortness of breath,  palpitations, dizziness,  nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and fatigue. If the back pain develops when exercising and the breathing rate is increased while feeling better at rest. This pattern may be a sign of heart failure. If chest discomfort and shortness of breath are new symptoms, it is important to see a doctor investigate the underlying cause.  Call 911 and get medical treatment right away if the chest pain lasts longer than a few minutes and is not improved with rest or angina medications. 

Lung conditions (pulmonary embolism, pleurisy)

Lungs diseases can cause both breathing difficulties and back pain. For example, pulmonary embolism causes chest pain- which can also be felt in the back, along with shortness of breath, cough, swelling of the feet, weakness, and dizziness. Pleurisy is the inflammation of the tissues surrounding the lungs. This condition can also cause chest pain that can radiate to the shoulders or back which typically aggravates breathing, difficulty breathing, and cough. Rib fractures and trauma, various infections, pulmonary embolism, autoimmune diseases can lead to pleurisy. Any unexplained, severe chest pain during breathing should be evaluated by a doctor as soon as possible. 

Excess weight 

Those extra pounds put more pressure not only on the spine, muscle, and ligaments of the back. While doctors debate if obesity is the cause or contributor of back pain, it is known that excess weight aggravates low back pain, increased recurrence of acute pain episodes,  weakens the bones and is often associated with a sedentary life. As more and more Americans experience chronic low back pain, some research suggests that the obesity epidemic could be blamed, at least in part. According to lung specialists, obesity is strongly associated with shortness of breath, may impact respiratory function, and possibly worsen respiratory diseases like COPD and asthma. In this case, back pain may get worse with breathing.  The solution for both back pain relief and better breathing is to lose those extra pounds- and even more important- to maintain a healthy weight long-term. 

As you can see, many conditions can cause back pain that aggravates breathing.  While back pain alone can be often managed at home, the combination of back pain and breathing troubles can be very concerning. Breathing difficulties, especially when developing chest pain need evaluation right away, as they suggest lung or heart diseases. Other signs and symptoms of a medical emergency include rapid breathing, loss of consciousness, significant weakness, choking, confusion, changes in skin color- either pallor or blue discoloration of the lips and fingers, dizziness, high fever, and cough with blood.