What Causes Back Pain When Breathing (& What Can You Do About It)?

April 3, 2024

Why does my back hurt when I breathe and (more importantly) what can I do about it?

You’re getting ready to relax after a long day when *yawn* OUCH!!!! Your deep breath caused a sharp pain in your back. You take another deep breath and sure enough, you still have pain when breathing.

Someone who experiences pain in their back when breathing may feel worried, but sometimes it’s nothing more than a short-lived twinge. Unfortunately there are instances when it’s a nagging pain that won’t go away. Could it be something serious? Is something wrong with your lungs or heart? Is it one of many underlying medical conditions? Do you need medical attention?

Read on to discover the top causes for back pain when breathing, what you can do about it, and when to see a doctor.



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Why Is Back Pain a Big Deal?

We know what you’re thinking: “Why do I need to spend money or seek advice for back pain? Isn’t it a common symptom? Doesn’t everyone have back pain? Can’t I just pop a Motrin and call it a day?”

We operate under many mottos, but one we swear by is “pain is never normal.”

White male sitting in a white bed. He is grabbing his back in pain.

No matter how mild your pain may be, there is always a reason for it. Pain is a signal from your body that something isn’t operating the way it should be. When to worry about back pain can be confusing, but feeling back pain when breathing is certainly something that should prompt you to seek medical treatment before the pain can diminish your quality of life.

Trust us, you never want to be the person that has to say, “I wish I had seen someone sooner.” If the pain is due to an underlying condition that needs treatment (such as those listed below), waiting to seek treatment could possibly injure yourself further. The quicker you are diagnosed, the quicker we can come up with a treatment plan to alleviate your pain.

Disclaimer: Always consult with your doctor if your pain is acute, worsens, or doesn’t go away.


What Causes Back Pain When Breathing?

Naturally, your first step when you feel a sharp twinge in your back is to wonder what’s going on back there. There are a number of conditions that can cause back pain when breathing and each of them requires a different form of treatment.

1. Muscle Strain

Breathing uses a lot of different muscles, even under normal circumstances. If one of those muscles is injured from a slip & fall, car accident, or other form of trauma, it can cause discomfort to the injured area and possibly chronic back pain. You can even get muscle strain from overworking your body.

Muscle strain is one of the more common causes of back pain when breathing and moving and luckily, it’s a simple thing to fix. Typical remedies for muscle strain include stretching, heat packs, cold packs, and over-the-counter medication. This type of strain should begin to feel better in a few days and be fully healed in a few weeks.

However, long-term use of painkillers can lead to some nasty side effects. If a week or two goes by and you aren’t feeling any better, this would be a time to contact a professional for additional information.


Cartoon drawwing of a rib cage and spine. The spine is curved from scoliosis.

2. Scoliosis

Scoliosis is an abnormal curving of the spine. It is typically diagnosed during childhood or adolescence but can also develop later in life.

In more severe cases, this curvature may be so pronounced as to constrict your lungs and the other organs in your chest. Without room to expand, each breath may become quite uncomfortable and you may have difficulty breathing.

Treatment depends on a variety of factors, including your age and degree of the curvature. Luckily, chiropractic treatment can prove incredibly effective in the majority of cases.

3. Soft Tissue Injuries

If you’ve had a cold, a bad flu, or COVID-19, all of that coughing can end up causing back pain when breathing. This is especially true if your illness led to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection that can cause months of coughing.

Inflammation of the lining of the lung (a condition known as pleurisy) or the cartilage in the rib cage (known as costochondritis) can both cause a sharp pain in the chest that may radiate to the back whenever you take a deep breath.

If your back pain when breathing occurs after a respiratory illness, make a visit to your general practitioner. But if you haven’t been sick recently, the inflammation may be due to trauma from a recent injury. In this case, a licensed chiropractor can provide a diagnosis using an x-ray and will have a variety of treatment options for any underlying conditions.

4. Obesity

When a person carries excess weight, it puts a strain on their muscles, bones, and ligaments, causing them to work harder over time. If those muscles are already weakened, this places a huge toll on the body. It’s not uncommon to experience back pain when breathing as a result.

The best course of action for obesity-related conditions is, of course, to lose weight. But this is easier said than done. Fortunately, chiropractic care can help.

When back pain and other discomforts make exercise difficult, regular chiropractic adjustments can restore your body’s range of motion and alleviate some of your pain. When your body is better equipped to move the way it’s supposed to, losing weight is no longer an uphill battle.

5. Heart Attack

While heart attack is not the main cause for back pain when breathing, it’s incredibly important to be aware of the symptoms and it is considered a medical emergency.

For men, the main symptom of a heart attack is chest discomfort, but for women, the symptoms can be quite different. Nausea/vomiting, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, and—yes—back pain are much more common in women.

If you are at risk of a heart attack or cardiac arrest, familiarize yourself with the most common symptoms (for men and women) so that you can identify a heart attack when it occurs.

6. Lung Problems

Again, while not a common cause for back pain when breathing, issues such as lung cancer and pulmonary embolism (i.e. a blood clot in the lung) can cause pain while breathing. These conditions can be hard to detect, so make sure you aren’t ignoring any signs from your body that something is wrong.


Woman sitting on a chiropractic table with her hand on her lower back.

How Chiropractic Care Can Help

Once you have ruled out a heart attack or pulmonary issues, most people turn toward prescription medications or even surgery for relief from persistent or chronic back pain when breathing. However, this merely treats the symptom of an underlying condition.

For pain caused by scoliosis, muscle strain, or other soft tissue injuries, a combination of chiropractic adjustments and massage therapy can help. If you’ve recently suffered a trauma, like a car accident, it’s imperative that you seek treatment within 14 days to ensure it will be covered by your PIP policy and you don’t have any lingering issues.

But no matter what is causing your pain while breathing, we at Oviedo Chiropractic can help. Chiropractic care does not rely on drugs or surgery, so it can be used in conjunction with your other treatment plans without you having to worry about side effects.


Back Pain While Breathing Is Not Always Serious

…but it does need to be addressed.

Not all back pain while breathing is the same. Luckily, not every twinge is a cause for serious concern. Treatment options are plentiful and range from chiropractic adjustment, massages, over the counter medications, physical therapy, natural remedies, and consults with doctors.

At Oviedo Chiropractic, we’re here to make every day just a little bit easier and more comfortable. From adjustments to massage therapy to giving you exercise and stretching tips, everything we do is to help you. Make an appointment with us today so we can discuss your options for a better and pain-free future!


Justin Cough

Dr. Justin Cough, D.C.

Dr. Cough graduated from Palmer College of Chiropractic in Port Orange, FL after receiving his BS in Education from SUNY Oswego. Before becoming a chiropractor, he coached many middle and high school sports teams including football, lacrosse, basketball, and soccer. He is passionate about focusing on our bodies' natural healing mechanisms and helping his patients enjoy the utmost sustainability in their lives.

For some, chiropractic offers relief from pain. For others, it's about feeling and looking good. Call today and see what chiropractic can do for you!

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