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Upper Back Pain When Breathing – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment


Upper back pain when breathing has a wide range of possible causes. These include infections, injuries, and heart problems.

Upper back pain when breathing normally typically extends from the chest to the ribs. Sometimes, sharp, stabbing pain can also be a symptom of a heart attack or pleurisy. A mild ache may be due to muscle inflammation or a broken vertebra.

Sometimes looking out for other medical symptoms can help a patient to identify the source of their pain.

When a person has upper back pain, they often experience pain on the top of their heads, along with neck and shoulder pain. There can also be problems with the jaw, shoulders, and upper arms. While not common in everyone, upper back pain is something that many people deal with throughout their lives. It can easily be treated if it is taken care of properly.

Also if you are suffering from back pain during pregnancy, then read our blog post on the topic.


Related Post: How to Relieve Back Pain Fast


Causes & Symptoms of Upper Back Pain When Breathing


Experiencing pain in your upper back while you breathe can cause confusion and frustration. Work with your doctor to identify the possible cause of your discomfort, which could be one of the following:




The first most common medical reason for upper back pain when breathing relates to asthma. If you have chronic asthma, the air you breathe may trigger an asthma attack, followed by an inflammation of your bronchial tubes and your throat. Sometimes the swelling of the bronchial tubes can be alleviated simply by coughing up the excess mucus.

Other times, the inflammation can turn into a full-blown asthma attack, which can feel very much like the intensity of a heart attack. This type of chest discomfort is often accompanied by wheezing, a characteristic of asthmatic attacks.

Upper backache when bending over or stretching is also often associated with a cough or asthma. Coughing causes mucus to build up in the back of the throat. Asthma causes difficulty and irritation in breathing as well as chest tightness and shortness of breath. A persistent cough or wheezing may indicate bronchial inflammation, often accompanied by pain in the shoulder blades area.


Muscle Strain or Panic Disorder


One of the more serious underlying medical conditions and one of the most common upper back pain causes related to breathing is a strained muscle. Strenuous and overuse movements of the shoulders, neck, arms, back, etc., are common among those who regularly engage in demanding and strenuous activity.

Although it is most common in athletes, straining the muscles in such a way as to create an ache or a pain in the neck, shoulder blade, arms, etc., can occur just about anyone. There are many potential causes for this sort of strain, such as an improperly fitted collarbone, being overweight, poor posture, sitting in a wrong position for extended periods, having a history of previously strained muscles, etc. If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, you should see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Patients with a whiplash injury experience pain in the upper back near the neck, shoulders and sometimes in the groin area. This is caused by the force of the head striking the ground when the body is pitched forward. Sometimes this injury also results in tenderness, swelling and even bruising near the injured area.

This area needs to be immobilized to control swelling. Such patients should always be cautious with any activity that requires the use of arms and shoulders when bending over and lifting.


Fractured Vertebra


The third most common upper back pain cause when breathing is herniated discs. A herniated disc occurs when a large part of your spinal disc material has “swelled” due to some form of trauma.

Sometimes this happens due to improper lifting techniques, but more often, it results from repetitive stress placed on the spine. A herniated disc can be painful to the point where you cannot even walk.

You may notice difficulty breathing or coughing, which can lead to some shortness of breath. Other symptoms include weakness in the legs or numbness or tingling in the arms and legs.

Spine problems such as herniated discs and degenerated discs are common causes of pain in the back when breathing.

These conditions cause pain, weakness, and even difficulty breathing. When you suffer from upper back pain and have a problem with your breathing, you should consult your chiropractor first.

You should let your chiropractor know the type of treatment you want to do. If the chiropractic care you are getting is not good enough for treating your upper back pain, you should seek help from a physician.


Pleural Effusion


The fourth most common reason for upper back pain is a genuine pleural effusion, also known as a thickening of the lining of the lungs.

Pleural thickening can be caused by various conditions, including chronic obstruction of the pulmonary artery, enlarged tonsils, and sometimes even a severe lung infection.

The classic symptom of a pleural effusion is a heavy, chronic cough that produces a lot of mucus, like what you would expect after exerting yourself at a gym.




Another common cause of upper back pain and discomfort is the presence of pleurisy.

Pleurisy is a swelling of the tissue surrounding the neck and upper back. It can present itself as a bulge, hard lump, or as a series of small pockets. It can present itself as a sharp pain, numbness, tingling, or a feeling like your ribs are touching.

If you notice any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately to determine if it is pleurisy and treat it accordingly.




One of the strangest causes of upper back pain and a sensation of incomplete breathing is spasms.

Spasms commonly occur in response to intense physical trauma, like falling backwards after jumping from a high chair or as a result of overexertion from extended sitting or standing.

The sensation of difficulty breathing can be intermittent, constant, or sharp in frequency. In addition to the strange sensation of difficulty breathing, chronic muscle spasms can lead to the formation of what doctors call “stiff shoulder, ” an odd-looking bone spurring seen on the upper back.


Chest Infections


Chest infections are another issue that causes pain in the upper back when breathing. Bacteria or viruses can cause chest infections. Symptoms include fever, aches and pains, and even vomiting. Some people also experience chest pains.

Chest infections cause difficulty breathing, and when breathing is difficult, it can result in heart problems, such as heart attack.


Heart Problems


Heart attack and pulmonary embolism are other examples of life-threatening situations of upper back pain when breathing.

These are conditions that require immediate medical attention, as if they are left unattended, they can result in death. 

When breathing, the lungs must inflate and deflate in unison, and if the bronchial tubes are damaged, they will not be able to transport the oxygen into the bloodstream, resulting in shortness of breath and increased chest pain wheezing, coughing and choking. If one experiences chest pain and breathing difficulties, one should seek immediate medical attention.

Chest pain and breathing difficulties can be the signs of coronary artery disease (CAD), and a physician should be consulted immediately.

Heart attack symptoms include chest pain, rapid or irregular heartbeat, discomfort in the abdomen and trouble breathing. Abnormal heart rhythms can also result in upper back discomfort.

When suffering from a heart attack, the individual may experience pain over the left shoulder. This could mean that a hernia or other injury is present. These types of damages need to be examined by a physician.


Acid Reflux


Finally, a symptom of upper back pain when breathing that is more common than many realize is acid reflux. A lot of people experience heartburn and acid reflux. However, they may not realize that the pain they experience is different from heartburn and acid reflux.

Instead of the burning feeling that heartburn produces, upper back pain often produces a sharp pain that shoots through the chest. If you are experiencing this, then you are highly likely suffering from acid reflux and should see a doctor immediately.


Shortness of Breath


Shortness of breath is another symptom that needs to be addressed. Upper Back Pain When breathing deeply is a prevalent cause, Individuals can experience shortness of breath anytime, especially after exerting too much energy or physical activity.

Sometimes, shortness of breath is caused by an obstruction in the windpipe or chest cavity. Sometimes, the pain is caused by irritation of the muscles in the upper chest. When the muscles are irritated, they cannot contract properly, making the person experience chest pain or pain in the back when breathing.


Also Read: How to Get Rid of Back Pain Permanently

Treatment of Upper Back Pain When Breathing


Upper Back pain when breathing often resolves with at-home treatment over the course of a few days. You may need to combine several treatments to get the best effect. These include:


  • OTC pain medication. Pain medications like NSAIDs or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Good Posture Ensuring a good posture when sitting, walking, or lifting heavy objects can help to reduce the risk of developing upper back pain.
  • Proper Breathing When you are suffering from upper backache, it is vital to ensure that your breathing is correct. How you breathe affects how you experience the pain, whether from a pinched nerve or tight muscles. It is essential to learn proper breathing techniques to avoid pain in your upper back.
  • Heat and Ice. Heat and cold therapy can help calm down back spasms and relieve tightness. Try using a hot water bottle on your back, or sit in a whirlpool bath. Ice packs can benefit inflammation, swelling, and pain from injury, sprains, and muscle strain.
  • Exercise. Gentle exercise, such as stretching or shoulder rolls, can help relieve back pain and stiffness.
  • Massage. Massage around the lower neck and shoulder blades can help reduce muscle knots.
  • Rest. Bed rest can help with acute back pain but should be limited. Try resting for a few hours at a time, for one to two days only.
  • Treating the Underlying Cause. When you begin to feel better, make sure to pay careful attention to how your upper back pain progresses. Make sure that you do not aggravate the situation. Be patient with your progress. If you have to take more than one course of action, choose the ones that will give you the most improvement. This will ensure that you can live a long and healthy life.
  • Quit Smoking Studies have shown that people who smoke are more likely to have chronic back pain. Abstaining from smoking can therefore help to resolve upper back pain.


treatments of upper back pain when breathing blogpost infographics by pakistanonline.net
Treatment of Upper Back Pain When Breathing


Final Thoughts


Upper right upper back pain can be caused by many different things; car accidents, bad posture, injury, and joint problems. You need to remember that if your pain comes on suddenly and lasts for more than a couple of days that you should make an appointment with your doctor to rule out any other possibilities.

It is also important that you stay calm when you have upper right pain and remember that you are not alone. There are thousands of people who deal with this pain every day.

Work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that will work for your situation and help you get the relief that you are looking for.

Upper right back pain is not easy to treat. It can range from being extremely painful to the point that you cannot function properly or even walk to being a minor inconvenience that you can get over in a short time.

Do not worry if you have upper back pain when breathing. There is plenty of help out there for you.

Remember, it is never too late to ask for help for your pain!


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