Back pain itself can be reason for concern, especially if it’s not going away with self-care efforts. But when back pain is combined with shortness of breath, the level of concern is understandably much greater. Below are five possible reasons you may be experiencing both back pain and shortness of breath.
When you breathe, muscles that run between your ribs (intercostal muscles) help with the expansion and contraction of your chest cavity and ribcage. If one of these muscles becomes strained, you may experience spine-related symptoms that include:
Shortness of breath can occur if the back pain you’re experiencing is aggravated with each expansion and contraction that happens as you breathe. The intercostal muscles themselves may become strained due to overexertion, overextension that results in torn muscle tissue, a hard fall, or direct impact to the mid/upper back area. Intercostal muscle strain is usually temporary, although it may take 6–8 weeks for healing to occur. In the meantime, your discomfort may be managed with:
Your upper (thoracic) spine has a natural curve to it that’s perfectly normal and beneficial. If this curve gets to 50 degrees or more, it’s a condition known as severe thoracic kyphosis or hyperkyphosis. If this is the reason for your back pain and shortness of breath, you may be advised to wear a brace if your spine is still growing. The goal with bracing is to prevent the progression of the curve from becoming worse. If you’re beyond the age when bracing can be effective or if your symptoms are severe, you may be a candidate for spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles patients with hyperkyphosis should consult a spine specialist to determine the best course of treatment for their circumstances.
Hard impacts from contact sports and accidental falls are just two of the ways a rib can become fractured (broken) or displaced. If this happens, you may feel sharp pain when you take breaths. A fractured or displaced rib could also contribute to a strained intercostal muscle, which could produce pain as you breathe. Symptoms often improve once the affected rib is treated.
The abnormal curvature of the backbone that’s characteristic of scoliosis sometimes affects the level of the spine around the chest. In rare cases, spinal curvature may be severe enough to affect breathing. Some patients with back pain and shortness of breath have both scoliosis and kyphosis. Treatment and symptom management may involve:
Back pain medication being taken for another unrelated reason sometimes results in an allergic reaction that affects breathing. This sometimes happens with muscle relaxants, although other drugs may produce similar reactions. Signs of an allergic reaction to spine-related meds include:
Infections and blood clots may also contribute to back pain and shortness of breath. It’s possible for symptoms to go away with rest and modification of regular activities. However, if this doesn’t happen, see your doctor to get an evaluation. If a spine-related issue is suspected, you may be referred to a specialist.
If you’re experiencing back pain combined with shortness of breath, 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 us today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.