It’s no secret that physical activities often trigger spine-related pain, whether it’s from climbing up stairs, making certain motions while playing sports, lifting heavy items, or carrying out duties at work. However, there are times when seemingly unrelated actions such as coughing may make your back hurt. In fact, some people first notice issues with their back when experiencing pain after a fit of coughing and/or sneezing. Why does this happen? Here’s a closer look at the link that sometimes exists between coughing and back pain.
Occasionally having a forceful cough that causes temporary back pain doesn’t necessarily mean there’s something going on within your spine area. It’s when coughing and back pain consistently go together that the possibility of a connection becomes more likely. As for why this happens, there are many possible reasons.
For instance, if you regularly hunch your shoulders or lean forward when you cough, you may be changing your posture in a way that places more pressure on discs already affected by some type of damage, to the point where spinal nerves become compressed. Coughing may also act as a pain trigger if you have any of the following spinal issues:
• Spine-related muscle strains and spasms
• Stretched or torn ligaments
• Issues related to age-related wear (degenerative disc disease)
• Fractures affecting either vertebrae or spinal joints (facet joints)
Coughing may aggravate previous spinal issues even if you’ve received treatment for them, including alternatives to spinal fusion surgery. Santa Monica residents who have been treated for spine pain in the past should consult their spinal health specialist if cough-related pain is severe or long-lasting.
Oftentimes, coughing aggravates existing sources of back pain. However, it’s also possible for coughing to be a direct cause of spine-related issues. For example, repeated fits of coughing coupled with the resulting poor posture discussed above could cause spinal discs to gradually shift. An intense cough related to an underlying condition or a severe seasonal cold could also tear or damage soft tissues that support the spine.
When back pain intensifies while coughing, the first step is to determine if something spine-related is causing your discomfort, which may require a physical exam, an evaluation of your breathing patterns and spinal alignment, a discussion of your symptoms, and appropriate image tests (e.g., X-rays or MRI or CT scans). If a source of pain is discovered, treatment may involve:
• Strengthening or postural exercises
• Hot/cold therapy
• Medication to ease pain and inflammation
• Surgery if other treatment efforts aren’t effective
Of course, it’s not possible to prevent all instances of coughing and sneezing. However, what you can do is pay attention to your posture when you feel a cough coming on by making an effort to keep your back straight. Also, let your shoulders relax instead of instinctively drawing them up toward your neck and shoulder area. With particularly forceful fits of coughing, it may be helpful to brace yourself against a desk, table, or wall to minimize spine movements.
If you have back pain that’s been successfully diagnosed and subsequently treated or managed and you take some of the precautions discussed above, your spine and its various parts should be able to absorb the force from involuntary actions such as coughing and sneezing without too much discomfort. If you notice an uptick in back pain when you cough, err on the side of caution and see what your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon has to say.
If you’re experiencing severe or prolonged episodes of back pain, don’t put off seeing a spine specialist. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for your long-term spinal health. The spinal health experts at The Spine Institute are dedicated to relieving your pain and getting you back to your normal activities as soon as possible. Call us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.