back pain when breathing deeply
Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
May 15, 2024 ·  3 min read

Back Pain When Breathing Deeply: Causes and Solutions to Pain in Back

Whether you’re an exercise buff, enjoy an occasional walk or bike ride around your neighborhood, or even type daily e-mails on your computer, chances are at some point you have experienced back pain when breathing.

An estimated 80% of Americans will experience some form of back pain in their lives; and according to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans deal with back pain at any given time! The back is highly susceptible to injury, because it’s responsible for twisting, bending, rotating, and lifting.

In fact, most everyday activities could contribute to aches and pains in the back—everything from typing at the computer to tying a shoe. But what about the back painwhen breathing?

What Causes Back Pain When Breathing?

Upper back pain while breathing is typically related to a sprained rib, where the rib keys into the side of the spine. Each time you inhale and exhale, the lungs will inflate with air and then empty again. Your ribs must be pliable and healthy to ensure breathing goes unhindered and the rest of your body functions accordingly.

When the rib is strained, the head of the rib will rub into the side of the disc, causing the rib to go into a protective clench to keep the rib still. The rib-to-spine junction won’t run coordinated, which can lead to problems with chest functions (i.e. breathing). This is what causes excruciating back and sometimes even chest pain when breathing.

Furthermore, repeated coughing (as part of a chest infection from the flu or pneumonia, for example) can leave you with a strained rib, which can lead to pain in the back while breathing.

Back Pain When Breathing Deeply: Top 4 Medical Causes

back pain when breathing deeply

1. Injury:

Any injury to the chest can cause pain when breathing. If you break a rib, the chest wall will continue with normal respiration, causing the small fragments of the broken rib to rub together and cause pain. If you bruise or pull a muscle, the same type of pain can occur.

2. Lung infection:

A lung infection can make it very difficult to breathe. For example, pneumonia can cause shortness of breath and fever symptoms; the longer the symptoms last, the more painful each breath will be.

3. Blood clots:

A pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in your lungs) can lead to trouble breathing or shortness of breath.

4. Cardiac conditions:

Our hearts are surrounded by a layer of tissue called pericardium, which joins the lining of the lungs together. Inflammation that occurs in the lungs will cause pain with every breath if the pericardium becomes inflamed.

Strenuous back pain while breathing has also been linked to people who are obese or overweight. Excess weight can place tremendous stress on the spine and clog the airway, which causes shortness of breath.

Natural Ways to Treat Back Pain when Breathing

back pain when breathing deeply

Get up and moving.

Of course, your body needs rest, but don’t lie on your back all day—keep active and moving with light activity. If the pain is unbearable, then lie down for a few hours before getting active again.

Hot and cold compresses.

To reduce pain in the back after an injury, apply an ice pack to the injured area—this will numb the pain and reduce swelling. After two days, place a heat compress on the injured area—this will help stimulate blood flow and soothe the pain in the back.

Minimize pressure on the back.

Make sure you don’t place too much extra, unnecessary pressure on the back. When you have to pick up a (small) item, bend at your knees to pick it up.

If you are suffering from pain in back when breathing, your physician will evaluate how serious the pain is, and treat accordingly. The good news is that in most cases, the back pain can go away with simple rest, physical therapy, and home exercises.

Disclaimer: Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.