Back Pain When Breathing? 4 Causes and 6 Ways to Treat

By Jessica Kelley | Health


Have you ever felt back pain when you took a deep breath? It's undoubtedly an excruciating and frustrating experience. Having back pain is bad enough, but experiencing it when breathing is even worse.

Unfortunately, this is something that millions of people experience. A study by the American Chiropractic Association revealed that 31 million Americans suffer from back pain. Luckily, there are ways to remedy this problem.

Possible Causes of Back Pain When Breathing

There are many causes of back pain, and the astonishingly high number is due to the back's function. Since it is an integral part of bending, lifting, rotating and twisting actions, it becomes prone to injuries. Even simple daily activities like bending to pick something up or carrying a heavy bag can cause back pain.

Here are the common reasons why we experience back pain when we breathe:

1. Chest injury

An injury to the chest can also result in pain when breathing. Even if we break a rib bone, we can continue to breathe normally. But the small fragments of the broken bone will start to scrape together and cause pain.

Sprained Rib


This is the most common reason for the back pain we feel when we breathe. A sprained rib can happen due to sprained muscle or from repeated or violent coughing. One physiotherapist likened each rib to a bucket handle that lifts up and down the rim as we breathe.

This movement causes the rib to inflate and deflate so that air can enter and exit the lungs. Each rib has to be flexible so that breathing comes quickly and the body works regularly.

However, the head of the rib will brush against the side of the spine's disc when it's sprained. This motion will cause the rib to clench or close in on itself in a protective gesture, as a way to keep the bones steady. Since the rib-to-spine connection isn't coordinated, breathing problems occur, and this sometimes lead to pain when breathing.

2. Infection


 Acute bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia can lead to bouts of violent coughing that can strain several ribs. An infection also manifests through fever and shortness of breath, and as the symptoms continue, it becomes more painful to breathe deeply.

3. Inflammed pericardium


The pericardium is the tissue layer that surrounds the heart and is connected to the lining of the lungs. The tissue sometimes becomes swollen due to inflammation in the lungs and causes pain in the back when breathing.

4. Obesity

Excess weight places immense stress on the spine and leads to clogged airways.

Poor posture, exhaustion, and emotional stress can also lead to back pain when breathing. There are also certain medical conditions that put pressure on the spine and cause pain. Osteoarthritis, a herniated disc or scoliosis are just some examples. In some cases, back pain can be an underlying symptom of something more serious, like cancer or a gallbladder problem, so it's best that you see a doctor.

Should I Be Worried About Back Pain When Breathing?

Back pain is often quite mild and easy to tolerate. However, certain medical conditions put pressure on the spine and cause pain.

Osteoarthritis, fractured vertebrae, herniated disc, scoliosis, kyphosis and degenerative disc disease are just some examples. Some of these conditions occur due to age while others happen because of a direct injury to the spine.

However, there are rare cases where back pain when breathing is an underlying symptom of something more serious, like autoimmune disease, cancer, a gallbladder problem or pulmonary embolism.

You should always seek medical attention when you experience unexplained back pain when you breathe, especially when the following symptoms are also present:

  • Chest pain that moves to the shoulder, neck, back or abdomen

  • Chills or fever
  • ​A cough with the presence of blood
  • ​Feelings of agitation, anxiety or confusion
  • ​Dizziness, feeling faint or loss of consciousness
  • ​Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • ​Numbness or a tingling sensation in the arms, legs, stomach or chest
  • ​Shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat
  • Swelling of the legs

Tests and Treatment for Back Pain

There are many types of treatments for back pain. However, these procedures would depend on the severity of the symptoms, how it affects your daily life and your test results.

After talking to you about your health history, your doctor would have you undergo physical exams and imaging tests. While it would depend on your physician's initial diagnosis, you'll likely be asked to get an X-ray, MRI or CT scan. You might also be required to undergo a bone scan or an electromyogram and nerve conduction study.

Meanwhile, the treatment for back pain would depend on the cause and severity of the pain. Patients are sometimes placed in a back brace or required to undergo physical therapy. Over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) might be given as well.

But if the pain worsens, doctors might recommend muscle relaxants or prescription drugs like opioids to manage the pain. Steroid shots are also an option if it becomes necessary to reduce swelling or relieve the pressure on the nerves.

Remedies for Back Pain

There are many types of treatments for back pain. However, the treatments depend on the severity of the symptoms and how it affects you in your daily life. Doctors will also take into consideration what medicines you've taken or treatments you've undergone for the pain.

Mild to moderate back pain is still tolerable. Some would wait for the back pain to go away on its own while others opt for some rest or a massage to relieve it. If you need some extra help, there are several remedies that you can do.

1. Move Around


It might feel good to lie on your back the whole day if you're suffering from back pain, but that will make things worse. Try to move around and do some light activity. Lie down and rest for a few hours if the pain becomes unbearable. Once it subsides a little, get up and start moving again.

2. Apply Hot And Cold Compresses


If your back pain is due to an injury, apply a cold compress on the affected area to deaden the pain and reduce swelling. Follow it up with a hot compress after two days. The compress will soothe the pain and revitalize blood flow.

3. Lessen The Pressure You Put on Your Back


Don't put too much or unnecessary pressure on your back. For instance, if you're going to pick something up, make sure you bend your knees. Avoid making quick, jerky movements as well.

4. Do Physical Therapy or Get A Massage

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Physical therapy can help improve your balance, flexibility, and strength. You can even ask your physical therapist to come up with and teach you an exercise program you can do at home. Meanwhile, a massage helps lessen muscle tension and pain and improves the flow of blood to the muscles.

5. Try Acupuncture

The practice involves placing tiny needles into the skin at specific points in the body. This eastern medicine reportedly relieves pain and expedites healing.

6. Practice Good Posture

Your stance also puts stress on your back. Avoid slouching and stand or sit tall, with your shoulders and stomach pulled in for support. A posture corrector is also a good help


Last Thoughts

Back pain is almost inevitable. Luckily, most instances of back pain when breathing are tolerable and easily managed. Being mindful of our posture, bending our knees when we pick something up and using hot and cold compresses when suffering from muscle spasm are just some ways we can control back pain.

Reducing stress, eating healthy and daily exercise can also help relieve back pain and ensure that we're breathing deeply and cleanly. However, we should not take back pain for granted.

 It's always a good idea to consult our doctor about it, no matter how mild it is.

Do you have any tried and tested way to relieve back pain that manifests when breathing? Let us know your experience or recommendation in the comments section. And don't hesitate to share this article if you like it.



About the Author

I am Jessica, co-founder of We work to inspire, educate and empower our readers with all the latest updates and authentic information. Our goal is to bring up the “Healthy attitude” among people in the world. On you will find high-quality health information, fitness tips, diet charts and answer to all your health queries.