Extending from the base of your skull to just above your hips, the spine takes up a lot of space in your body, and it can have an impact on many different structures, including your lungs. This is why back pain is sometimes accompanied by shortness of breath. In many instances, it’s not a serious issue. However, it never hurts to get a better idea of why back pain may sometimes make it harder to breathe.
Muscle overextension or strain is a common cause of back pain. Your breathing can be affected if the strain affects the large muscles that run along your spine and between your ribs. You’ll be more likely to have difficulty breathing when you take deeper breaths if spine-supporting muscles in your upper or middle body are affected. Fortunately, muscle strain often responds well to:
• Limited rest
• Activity modification
• Over-the-counter pain/anti-inflammatory medications
• Ice/heat applications
If your back pain is caused by a more serious issue, such as a spinal fracture, scoliosis, or degenerative disc disease, you may be a candidate for spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles patients with severe or prolonged symptoms should consult a spine specialist to determine the best course of treatment for their circumstances.
Pneumonia is a potentially serious respiratory infection that often develops after the flu or a cold. If you have pneumonia, you may experience back pain when you cough or breathe deeply. Once the pneumonia is treated, your back pain should go away if it was solely related to the pneumonia.
Excess weight places more pressure on spine-supporting muscles. Added weight in the chest or back area can also make it difficult to breathe. Shedding excess pounds can be difficult, but a good starting point is getting regular exercise and making a shift toward eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods. Your doctor can offer more specific weight loss suggestions.
Sometimes unrelated issues in the abdominal area can contribute to back pain and breathing problems. For instance, the backup of stomach acid into the esophagus (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) can cause shortness of breath and chronic coughing, which could then trigger back pain. GERD is usually managed with medication.
Issues with the gallbladder also have the potential to produce radiating back pain and shortness of breath. Surgery may be necessary if your symptoms are related to gallstones.
Heart disease can make it difficult to breathe as the heart struggles to get more oxygen-rich blood. Blockages in the heart can also contribute to spine-related discomfort. However, if you have severe chest pain and difficulty breathing along with vague symptoms like back pain, seek urgent treatment, since these are possible signs of a heart attack. Other possible reasons for back pain and breathing issues include:
• A blood clot in the lungs (pulmonary embolism)
• A tear in the aorta (aortic dissection)
• Lung cancer
Because symptoms can be vague, it’s not easy to tell if back pain is the reason you’re having difficulty breathing. The only way to know for sure is to see your doctor to find out what’s going on. If your back pain and breathing problems are accompanied by chest pain, nausea, or dizziness, seek medical attention immediately.
If you’re experiencing back pain combined with breathing difficulty, don’t wait to seek the advice of an experienced Los Angeles spine surgeon. The spine specialists at The Spine Institute have unparalleled expertise in diagnosing and treating back pain, and our physicians lead the industry in cutting-edge treatment methods. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.