Why Do I Have Back Pain When I Breathe?

Breathing is a sign that you’re alive. Yet, for some, every inhale brings a sharp ache, like a knife stabbing into the back.

Pain is never normal. It’s a red flag you must pay attention to.

While pain can come from many sources, it’s important to know why you have it or else you’ll forever suffer.


Musculoskeletal Pain and Its Impact on Breathing

The musculoskeletal system is made up of our body’s muscles and bones. Back pain when breathing can occur due to overstretching or tearing (known as straining) of the intercostal or lumbar muscles.

These strains often result from everyday activities like work.

Intercostal Muscle and Lumbar Muscle Strains

The Intercostal Muscles, found between the ribs, allow us to take deep, satisfying breaths. Straining or injuring these muscles can cause pain and make breathing difficult.

Lumbar Muscles are found in the lower back and they work together with intercostal muscles ensuring your chest moves with each breath. Straining them can also disrupt your breathing.

When these muscles are strained or injured, breathing starts to hurt. The pain shoots through your chest, and it can even shoot through to the back of your chest, making it feel like your back is in pain.

Taking deep breaths feels like a painful challenge and can worsen your pain when you twist, stretch, cough, or sneeze.

How Deformities and Injuries Cause Back Pain and Breathing Difficulties

The spine, our true MVP, supports and balances our body. It absorbs shocks from our everyday activities. However, when the spine is injured or deformed, our breathing and performing simple tasks can be challenging.

Scoliosis: A curve in the spine to the side, which can squeeze the rib cage and make breathing harder.

Lordosis: A deep inward curve of the lower back, also known as swayback.

Kyphosis: A severe curve in the upper back that creates a hunchback appearance.

Untreated spinal deformities and injuries can seriously impact overall health. These conditions can worsen over time, increasing the risk of nerve damage that may affect breathing.

When Your Lungs and Back Are Trying to Kill You

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes swelling, pleurisy is when the thin tissue around the lungs gets inflamed, and bronchitis is a swollen bronchi and colorful mucus that can swell up the lung’s covering. These respiratory conditions can intensify your back and chest pain when you breathe.

If you’re experiencing difficulty breathing and are also suffering from back pain, it may indicate a spinal issue. Seeking immediate medical assistance is crucial.

When Back Pain Is More Than Just a Strain

Don’t ignore back pain, especially if you also have trouble breathing, chest pain, or fever. It might be serious.

Back pain could be from a lung clot, or Pulmonary Embolism, which also makes it hard to breathe and can cause chest pain, coughing up blood, a fast heartbeat, feeling dizzy, and sweating.

It could also be a sign of heart attack causing chest pain, shortness of breath, and sometimes back and shoulder pain, especially in women.

Lung cancer can also cause back pain when tumors reach the spine or press on nerves and this pain increases with deep breaths.

This is why it’s important to remember that back pain can be a sign of serious medical conditions.

Other Medical Concerns and Back Pain

Back pain could be telling you about other health issues.

Gallbladder issues are from gallstones obstructing bile ducts and kidney stones develop due to excessive waste and dehydration. Both lead to sharp pain in the back.

Even stress and breathing problems like asthma, can also contribute to the pain.

Anxiety and asthma make each other worse. Asthma causes symptoms like shortness of breath and wheezing, and anxiety brings persistent worry. They’re both linked to back pain because they can strain the diaphragm, which supports the spine, leading to pain in the lower back, neck, and shoulders.

When to Seek Medical Help for Back Pain?

Back pain is a common complaint but if you experience severe back pain, if it persists for several weeks, or if it originated from an injury and worsens over time, it is advisable to consult a doctor.

While most back pain improves within a few weeks with self-care, it may also indicate an underlying health problem that can significantly impact your daily life.

Here are five red flags that demand immediate attention:

  1. Sharp pain in one area: may indicate a muscle pull or organ issu
  2. Pain that spreads: could be a nerve being pinched, felt in the butt or legs.
  3. Sudden leg weakness: could signal a back nerve problem or a stroke.
  4. Loss of bowel control: this is serious, possibly a major nerve issue or spine infection.
  5. Lower body numbness: A big warning sign of a serious spine or nerve problem.

Examining Back Pain and Breathing Issues: How X-rays and MRIs Help

Healthcare providers have a wide range of diagnostic tools to uncover the causes of back pain. It’s similar to being a detective, but for the human body.

Doctors use X-rays to diagnose spine problems and understand the cause of back or neck pain. They can show things like broken bones, arthritis, disc problems, and spine shapes like in kyphosis or scoliosis.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is a type of body scan that takes detailed pictures of the inside of your back. It shows soft parts like discs and nerves without using harmful radiation, making it safe. Doctors use it to identify issues like slipped discs that can press on nerves and lead to back pain.

Both of these machines help doctors decide the most effective treatment for the pain.


Breathing and back pain can be related in different ways. Sometimes, strain or an injury can cause discomfort in your back and make it difficult to breathe deeply. While it’s normal to have occasional back pain, if the symptoms are severe or persistent, it may indicate a more serious condition.

Don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor to figure out what’s wrong with your body and provide an effective treatment.

Remember, prioritize your well-being and your future self will thank you.

FAQs about Breathing and Back Pain

  1. What is the connection between breathing and back pain?
    Breathing can make back pain worse if you have a spine problem. For instance, a bad disc in your back can hurt more when you take deep breaths.
  2. What are the most common causes of back pain?
    The most common causes of back pain include muscle strains, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.
  3. What can I do to prevent back pain?
    You can take several measures such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, practicing good posture, and avoiding smoking.
  4. When should I see a doctor for back pain?
    Go to a doctor if your back really hurts and doesn’t get better, or if you have other weird symptoms like trouble breathing, fever, or loss of bowel control.
  5. What is the Posture Lobster back support and how does it work?
    The Posture Lobster is a wearable device designed to improve posture and relieve back pain. It does this by supporting the lumbar spine and aligning the shoulders and hips.

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