Back pain is experienced by anyone at some point in his or her life, whether due to poor posture, lack of exercise or improper lifting techniques. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons why people miss work, and it remains a pervasive health problem worldwide.
That being said, most cases of back pain are unremarkable and bear little to no risk of serious health conditions. But when it is accompanied by unusual symptoms like shortness of breath, back pain may be a sign of a potentially grave condition or disease.
Back pain that occurs alongside shortness of breath can be a cause for concern, especially if you’re not so sure about the cause. Here are some possible reasons why back pain and shortness of breath may occur together:
Intercostal muscle strain
An intercostal muscle strain refers to a muscle injury that occurs in between two or more ribs. The intercostal muscles help connect the ribs and make up most of the chest wall. When one or more of these muscles become strained or overstretched, you might feel a tenderness along the back. In severe cases, you’re likely to experience intense back pain coupled with shortness of breath since the muscles affected are attached to the rib cage, which expands and contracts as you breathe.
When viewed from the side, the spine is normally not a straight line. The rib cage is designed to have a normal forward curvature known as kyphosis, which curves at an angle of 20 to 50 degrees depending on a person’s height and spine structure. When this curvature is beyond the normal range, it is known as severe kyphosis. Besides back pain, people with this condition tend to experience shortness of breath since the lungs are under constant pressure from the abnormal shape of the rib cage.
The spine is composed of 12 segments known as vertebrae, which are connected to the ribs. When a rib becomes fractured or misaligned as a result of an accident, it can cause an intense wave of pain to break out along the spine. Plus, because the ribs house the lungs, you’re likely to experience a sharp shooting pain every time you breathe as the lungs expand and contract. Sometimes, a fractured or misaligned rib can be caused by an intercostal muscle strain. If you suspect a fractured rib, seek professional help immediately.
Scoliosis is a deformity of the spine that causes it to resemble a backward C-shape when viewed from behind. This condition is marked by chronic pain along the neck, shoulders and lower back. Although mild scoliosis does not cause serious complications, people may still experience lower back pain and loss of height over time. In severe cases of scoliosis, the rib cage may press into the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. (Related: Do you have scoliosis? Improve your alignment with these 7 exercises and stretches.)
Some people may experience an allergic reaction to synthetic muscle relaxants, which can cause symptoms like hives, swollen throat and chest tightness. Muscle relaxants are typically used to alleviate back pain and induce sleepiness, but it’s best to steer clear of these drugs. Instead, eat foods that act as natural muscle relaxers, such as cherries, blueberries and pomegranates.
Most cases of back pain are easily remedied by home treatments like bed rest, cold therapy and anti-inflammatory foods. When treated early and correctly, back pain should disappear in a few days.
To avoid back pain and prevent its recurrence, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. You should also practice good posture and avoid any movement that puts unnecessary strain on the back.
For serious conditions including rib fractures and severe kyphosis, seek proper care and treatment.