Understanding the Link Between Back Pain and Shortness of Breath

Understanding the Link Between Back Pain and Shortness of Breath

Breathing should be as effortless as a summer breeze. But when you’re grappling with shortness of breath coupled with an aching back, it might feel more like a hurricane. This odd combination might seem unrelated at first, but they can sometimes signify underlying health conditions that need attention. Our blog post for today dives into the connection between back pain and shortness of breath seemingly disparate symptoms, highlighting causes, risk factors, and strategies for management and relief.

Can You Get Shortness Of Breath From Back Pain?

Can You Get Shortness Of Breath From Back Pain?Yes, back pain can sometimes lead to shortness of breath. Especially if the pain is severe, chronic, or associated with certain underlying conditions. There are several reasons why this might occur:

  • Nerve Irritation

Certain back problems, such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis, can irritate the nerves that control the lungs and breathing, causing shortness of breath.

  • Pain-Induced Stress Response

When you’re in pain, your body’s stress response can increase, leading to rapid, shallow breathing, also known as hyperventilation. This can make you feel short of breath.

  • Referred Pain or Shared Pathways

Some conditions like heart disease or lung conditions may cause both back pain and shortness of breath. The pain is often “referred,” meaning it is felt in a different location than where the problem is occurring.

  • Pain Medications

Certain medications used for pain management, particularly opioids, can depress the respiratory system, leading to shortness of breath.

It’s important to remember that while back pain can cause shortness of breath, it can also be a symptom of more serious conditions. Therefore, anyone experiencing these symptoms, particularly if they’re new, worsening, or associated with other symptoms, should seek immediate medical attention.

What Causes Back Pain And Shortness Of Breath?

The combination of back pain and shortness of breath can be caused by various conditions. Here are some potential causes:

1. Musculoskeletal Issues

Problems with the bones, muscles, or ligaments in the back can lead to pain and difficulty breathing. For instance, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or fractured vertebra can cause back pain. And if severe, might lead to breathing difficulties. Rib fractures or muscle strains can also cause similar symptoms.

2. Heart Conditions

Certain heart problems like heart disease, heart attacks, or angina can cause a feeling of pressure or pain in the back, and shortness of breath is a common symptom of these conditions.

3. Lung Conditions

Lung diseases like pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, pleurisy, and pulmonary embolism can cause both back pain and difficulty breathing. Shortness of breath is often more pronounced with exertion or while lying flat in these conditions.

4. Anxiety and Panic Attacks

In some people, stress and anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms, including back pain and shortness of breath. Panic attacks, in particular, can cause a sudden feeling of breathlessness and discomfort or pain in the chest or back.

5. Certain Cancers

Lung cancer or cancers that have metastasized to the lungs or spine can cause both back pain and shortness of breath.

6. Gastrointestinal Problems

Some problems related to the digestive system, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and gallbladder disease, can cause back pain. If severe, they might lead to difficulty breathing as well.

7. Scoliosis

In severe cases, this curvature of the spine can impact lung function. Ultimately, leading to shortness of breath along with back pain.

This list is not exhaustive. And it’s important to remember that many of these conditions are serious. If you’re experiencing back pain along with shortness of breath. Especially if these symptoms are severe, sudden, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention.

How To Manage Back Pain And Shortness Of Breath?

How To Manage Back Pain And Shortness Of Breath?Managing back pain and shortness of breath involves a mix of self-care measures, lifestyle changes, medical treatments, and potentially psychological interventions, depending on the underlying cause. Here are some general strategies that may help:

Medication Management

Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications to relieve pain and inflammation, such as NSAIDs or stronger pain relievers. If your symptoms are due to a heart or lung condition, appropriate medications or interventions will be necessary.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can help you with exercises and stretches that strengthen your back and improve flexibility, which can reduce pain. In some cases, improving posture or addressing specific physical impairments can also help with breathlessness.

Breathing Exercises

Practicing controlled breathing techniques, like diaphragmatic or pursed-lip breathing, can help manage episodes of breathlessness. Pulmonary rehabilitation may be beneficial if you have a chronic lung condition.

Regular Exercise

General cardiovascular exercise can improve lung and heart function. And specific exercises may also help strengthen the muscles supporting your back, alleviating some of the pain.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Extra weight can put pressure on your back, leading to pain, and can also make breathing more difficult. A balanced diet and regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight.

Quit Smoking

If you’re a smoker, quitting will likely improve your lung health and capacity, which could alleviate shortness of breath.

Avoid Heavy Lifting and Poor Posture

Heavy lifting and poor posture can exacerbate back pain. Try to maintain good posture, and ask for help or use proper lifting techniques if you need to lift heavy items.

Remember, these are general recommendations. And what works best for you will depend on the underlying cause of your symptoms. Always consult with a healthcare provider for a personalized treatment plan.

What Exercises Can Help In This?

If you’re dealing with back pain and shortness of breath, certain exercises may be beneficial by improving strength, flexibility, lung capacity, and overall fitness. However, always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you’re dealing with these symptoms. Here are some exercises that might be beneficial:

Stretching and Strengthening Exercises

  • Cat-Camel Stretch: This is a gentle movement that stretches the muscles in your back, and can be particularly beneficial for lower back pain.
  • Bird Dog Exercise: This exercise can help improve core strength and stability, helping to support your back.
  • Back Extensions: Lying on your stomach and gently lifting your torso off the ground can help strengthen your lower back.

Low-Impact Cardio Exercises

  • Walking: Walking is a low-impact exercise that can help to strengthen your muscles, improve lung function, and boost mood.
  • Cycling: Stationary or outdoor cycling is a great way to improve cardiovascular health and lung capacity without putting too much strain on your back.

Breathing Exercises

  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: Also known as “belly breathing,” this technique can help you make sure you’re using the full capacity of your lungs.
  • Pursed Lip Breathing: This technique can help control breathlessness, particularly during physical activity or stress.

Yoga and Pilates

Both of these practices incorporate elements of stretching, strengthening, and breath control, which may be beneficial for both back pain and shortness of breath.

Water-Based Exercises

Water-Based ExercisesSwimming or water aerobics can be particularly beneficial for people with back pain as the water supports your weight, reducing the load on your back.

Remember, it’s important to listen to your body during exercise. If a particular movement increases your pain or breathlessness, stop doing it and speak to a healthcare professional. It may also be helpful to work with a physical therapist or a trainer who is experienced in working with individuals with similar symptoms. This will ensure that you’re doing the exercises correctly and safely.


In conclusion, the combination of back pain and shortness of breath is a complex issue that requires careful attention. While they may seem unrelated, these symptoms can sometimes signify a shared underlying condition. Understanding the potential causes and being aware of the various management strategies, including medication, physical therapy, breathing exercises, and lifestyle changes, can guide you on your journey toward better health.

Still, the most crucial step is to seek professional medical advice if you’re experiencing these symptoms. Together, armed with knowledge and the right healthcare support, you can navigate through the discomfort toward a life of easier breathing and less pain.

If you’re experiencing Back pain, physical therapy for back pain at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.