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Why Does My Back Hurt When I Breathe?

Mar 28, 2022

Back pain when breathing can be very troublesome. You might be worried and let your doctor know, “my back hurts when I breathe!” When you take a deep breath, back pain is not something you expect to feel. There are actually many different reasons why you might notice pain in your back when breathing. A sudden injury to your back could affect the bones, muscles, and other soft tissues in the area. Certain medical conditions can also impact your internal organs like your lungs. Thankfully, there are many non-surgical back pain treatment options that can help. Finding out what is causing your back pain when breathing is the key to determining the best course of treatment.

7 Possible Causes of Back Pain When Breathing

Here are seven possible reasons why you may be experiencing back pain when breathing.

Strained Back Muscle

An injury to your back can cause a strained muscle. Common causes of strained back muscles include car accident injuries and sports injuries. You could also suffer a strained back muscle due to repetitive use or stress on your back. A strained muscle can cause sudden pain when moving. Taking a deep breath expands your lungs and can put pressure on tender, sore muscles in your back. In many cases, a strained back muscle can go away on its own with proper rest after an injury. A diagnosis from a car accident doctor or back pain specialist can also help determine the best course of treatment for you.

Bruised or Broken Rib

An injury to the ribs can lead to a bruised or broken rib. Rib injuries can make even the simplest movements like breathing or laughing lead to pain in your back. Middle back pain when breathing could be the result of a bruised or broken rib. A bruised or broken rib will typically cause muscle spasms or twitching in the area and result in tenderness around the injured area. Because the symptoms of a bruised rib and a broken rib are similar, your doctor will typically need to run diagnostic imaging tests to determine the most accurate diagnosis. An X-ray or CT scan can support the diagnosis of a bruised or broken rib that is causing you pain while breathing.

Herniated Disc

Spinal discs are located in between each of the vertebrae in your spine and help provide support and absorb shock. Each disc has a tough outer layer with a gel-like nucleus. Injury or wear and tear on a spinal disc can cause it to crack and the nucleus to spill out. This is known as a herniated disc. If you suffer a herniated disc, you might experience pain and tenderness in the area that gets worse with certain movements like taking a deep breath. Other common symptoms of a herniated disc include tingling and numbness, muscle weakness, and symptoms that extend elsewhere in the body, like your arms or legs.

Fractured Vertebra

A sudden or traumatic injury to the spine can cause a fractured vertebra. A fracture is the medical term for a broken bone. If you suffer a fractured vertebra, it can cause significant pain that gets worse with even the smallest of movements. Depending on the location of the fractured vertebra, you may notice upper back pain when breathing. Damage to a bone in your spine can put pressure on your spinal cord and central nervous system. Other symptoms of a fractured vertebra include tingling, numbness, and weakness. A fractured vertebra will require medical attention as soon as possible, especially if you notice bladder dysfunction or a complete loss of bowel function.


Scoliosis is commonly diagnosed during adolescence and refers to an abnormal curvature of the spine. As our bodies develop and grow, the spine should extend in a straight line from your head to your hips. In cases of scoliosis, the spine can curve abnormally, and you may notice uneven shoulders or one hip set higher than the other. Developmental issues and genetics play a large part in whether someone experiences scoliosis. Scoliosis can put pressure on the ribcage and parts of the spine near important internal organs like the heart and lungs. This can cause back pain that may increase with breathing.


Pneumonia is a serious infection that can cause inflammation in your lungs. The air sacs in your lungs may fill with fluid, which can make breathing difficult. Pneumonia can occur in one or both of your lungs, and symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening. Pneumonia can cause symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, and chills. Pneumonia can also lead to pain in your chest, abdomen, and back that gets worse with coughing and breathing. In severe cases, pneumonia may require hospitalization.

Heart Attack

A heart attack refers to a serious condition where blood supply is cut off from the heart. Not all people experience the same symptoms of a heart attack. More commonly known heart attack symptoms include chest pain and difficulty breathing. You may also start to sweat and feel nauseous or like you have indigestion. A heart attack can also cause pain that extends into your left arm. A heart attack can cause serious pain or pressure on your back and chest, making small movements like breathing feel unbearable.

Back Pain Diagnosis & Treatment

Find out what is causing your back pain while breathing so you can get started on the most appropriate treatment. In many cases, back pain while breathing can be treated with non-surgical back pain treatment options like chiropractic care. Whether you are dealing with acute or chronic back pain, a chiropractor or back pain specialist can help. Visit AICA Orthopedics in Atlanta to learn more about our personalized back pain treatment plans. We offer comprehensive care and treat your symptoms along with the root cause of your pain. You shouldn’t have to live with back pain, and starting with conservative and natural approaches to back pain treatment allow you to experience lasting relief.


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