Understanding Back Pain While Breathing: How To Manage It

Understanding Back Pain While Breathing: How To Manage It

While it might seem strange to link back pain with breathing, these two can sometimes go hand-in-hand. This peculiar and often alarming symptom can result from a variety of conditions, from simple muscle strain to more serious underlying health issues. Our back muscles play a pivotal role in the breathing process, and any disruption in this area can lead to discomfort or pain. In this blog post, we will delve into the potential causes, symptoms, and treatments for back pain when breathing.

How Does Your Back Comes to Play When Breathing?

How Does Your Back Comes to Play When Breathing?The process of breathing involves more than just our lungs. In fact, it’s a full-body endeavor that requires the coordination of multiple muscle groups and bones. That even includes those found in our back.

When we breathe in (inhale), our diaphragm contracts and moves downward, increasing the space in our chest cavity and allowing the lungs to expand. Simultaneously, the muscles between the ribs, known as the intercostal muscles, contract to expand the rib cage. Further enhancing the space available for the lungs.

The muscles located in our back play a crucial role in this process. These muscles help stabilize the rib cage, assist in lifting the ribs during inhalation (enhancing lung capacity), and maintain posture. Consequently, they work hard every time we take a breath. When you exhale, these muscles relax, and your rib cage and diaphragm return to their original position.

Any condition that disrupts or irritates these muscles or nerves, including injury, strain, inflammation, or infection, can cause back pain when breathing. So, while it may seem strange to link back pain when breathing, understanding the vital role your back plays in this process makes the connection clearer.

Why I Feel Back Pain When Breathing?

Feeling back pain when breathing can be a result of several factors, some minor and others potentially serious. Here are some possible reasons:

  • Muscle Strain or Sprain

This is the most common cause. Overexertion or awkward movements can lead to strain or sprain in the muscles of the back, chest, or ribs. As these muscles are used during the act of breathing, you may feel pain when they contract and relax.

  • Poor Posture

Long periods of sitting or standing with incorrect posture can put undue pressure on your back muscles. Eventually, leading to discomfort or pain when breathing.

  • Pleurisy

This is a condition where the lining of the lungs (pleura) becomes inflamed, usually due to infections. The inflammation can cause a sharp pain in your chest that can radiate to the back when you breathe in.

  • Rib Fractures or Bruises

If you’ve had a recent injury, a fractured or bruised rib could be the cause of your back pain while breathing.

  • Lung Conditions

Certain lung conditions such as pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, or lung cancer can cause back pain when breathing.

  • Spinal Disorders

Conditions like herniated discs, spinal stenosis, or osteoarthritis can cause nerve compression leading to back pain that may worsen with breathing.

Remember, if your back pain is severe or persistent, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend suitable treatments based on your specific situation.

Differentiating Between Normal and Worrisome Back Pain

Differentiating Between Normal and Worrisome Back PainBack pain when breathing can range from mild, temporary discomfort to severe pain that might signal a more serious underlying condition. Let’s discuss how to differentiate between ‘normal’ and worrisome back pain associated with breathing:


Normal or non-worrisome back pain when breathing often arises from minor muscle strains or sprains or is associated with poor posture. This type of pain:

  1. Is usually mild to moderate, and it improves with rest and self-care measures such as heat application or over-the-counter pain relievers.
  2. Doesn’t persist for more than a few days to a week.
  3. Doesn’t come with other severe symptoms like fever, unexplained weight loss, or severe chest pain.
  4. Improves with a change in position or after stretching and gentle movement.


Worrisome back pain when breathing may be indicative of a more serious condition and needs immediate medical attention. This type of pain:

  1. Is often severe and does not improve with rest.
  2. Persists for a prolonged period or worsens over time.
  3. May be accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, chest pain, shortness of breath, unexplained weight loss, leg weakness or numbness, or loss of bowel or bladder control.
  4. Does not improve with a change in position and may get worse with deep breaths.

It’s important to note that this is a general guideline, and everyone experiences pain differently. If you’re ever in doubt about your symptoms or if your pain is disrupting your daily life, it’s always a good idea to consult a healthcare professional.

What To Do When My Back Hurts When I Breathe?

If you experience back pain when breathing, it’s important to take certain steps to manage your pain and ensure that you’re not dealing with a more serious underlying condition. Here’s what you can do:

Rest and Relaxation

When you’re experiencing back pain during breathing, one of the initial steps to take is to reduce any physical stress on your back. This could mean taking a break from heavy lifting, strenuous exercises, or any activities that may exacerbate the pain. Rest does not mean complete bed rest. As this can lead to stiffness and potentially worsen the situation. Rather, it’s about balancing your activities with periods of relaxation to allow your body to recover.

Pain Management

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help with managing your pain and reducing inflammation. Ibuprofen is a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which can help reduce both pain and swelling. Acetaminophen, on the other hand, is a pain reliever and fever reducer but does not have the same anti-inflammatory properties.

Heat or Cold Therapy

The use of heat or cold can be a simple and effective way to alleviate back pain. A heating pad or a warm bath can help soothe stiff, tight muscles, promoting relaxation and increasing blood flow to the area, which aids in the healing process. In contrast, applying a cold pack can help numb the area and reduce inflammation. Particularly in the case of a recent injury. Typically, it’s recommended to apply heat or cold for about 15-20 minutes at a time, with a towel or cloth between your skin and the heat/cold source to prevent skin damage.

Gentle Movement and Stretching

While it might seem counterintuitive, light movement and stretching can often be beneficial when dealing with back pain. When we experience pain, our natural inclination might be to avoid movement. Gentle movement, such as walking or doing household chores, can help keep your muscles engaged and flexible.

Additionally, certain stretching exercises can help reduce muscle tension and improve your range of motion. For instance, yoga and Pilates offer a variety of stretches that can help alleviate back pain. However, it’s important to listen to your body and avoid any movements or positions that cause or worsen the pain.

Improve Your Posture

Poor posture can often contribute to back pain, including pain experienced when breathing. Slouching or hunching over can put extra strain on the muscles and ligaments in the back, leading to discomfort and pain. Therefore, improving your posture can be an important step in managing back pain. Here are some tips:

  1. When sitting, ensure your feet are flat on the ground, and your back is well supported. Your computer screen should be at eye level, and your keyboard and mouse should be within easy reach.
  2. When standing, try to keep your weight balanced on both feet and avoid locking your knees. Maintain your shoulders back and relaxed.
  3. Regularly take breaks from sitting or standing for extended periods. Changing positions frequently can prevent strain caused by maintaining the same position for too long.

Seek Medical Help

While mild back pain can often be managed at home, it’s important to recognize when professional help is needed. If your pain is severe, if it persists despite self-care measures, it’s crucial to seek medical attention promptly. These could be signs of a more serious underlying condition, such as heart disease, lung conditions, or spinal problems.

A healthcare provider can conduct a thorough examination, and if necessary, order further tests to identify the root cause of your pain. They can then guide you through the appropriate treatment plan based on your specific needs.

What Are Some Tips For Prevention And Maintenance?

What Are Some Tips For Prevention And Maintenance?Preventing back pain when breathing can largely depend on addressing its potential causes. Here are some general tips for prevention and maintenance:

  • Maintain Good Posture

Whether you’re sitting, standing, or moving around, maintaining good posture is key. When sitting, use a chair that supports the natural curve of your spine and keep your feet flat on the floor. When standing, balance your weight evenly on both feet and try to avoid slumping or slouching.

  • Proper Lifting Technique

Avoid heavy lifting where possible. But if you must lift something heavy, use your legs and not your back. Keep the load close to your body and don’t twist your torso while lifting.

  • Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent back pain as excess weight, particularly around the waist, can put a strain on your back muscles.

  • Quit Smoking

Smoking can reduce blood flow to the lower spine, leading to spinal disc degeneration. Moreover, coughing associated with heavy smoking can also cause back pain.

  • Mind Your Sleeping Habits

If you’re a side sleeper, place a pillow between your knees to maintain spinal alignment. Back sleepers can place a pillow under the knees for better support. Also, make sure you have a good mattress that supports your body adequately.

  • Manage Stress

High-stress levels can lead to muscle tension, leading to back pain. Techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques can help manage stress levels.

  • Regular Check-ups

Regular health check-ups can help identify potential issues before they become serious. If you have recurrent back pain, seeing a healthcare provider regularly can help manage the condition and prevent further complications.

Remember, these tips are general guidelines and may not work for everyone. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice.


In conclusion, back pain when breathing can be unsettling, but understanding its potential causes and knowing how to manage it can go a long way in easing your discomfort. While it’s often linked to common issues like muscle strain or poor posture, it can sometimes indicate more serious conditions. Therefore, it’s important not to ignore persistent or severe pain.

Remember, a proactive approach to your health is key – regular check-ups and immediate consultation with a healthcare professional can make a significant difference in managing your health and well-being.

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