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Back pain when breathing: what it could be and what to do

Back Pain

Back pain when breathing is usually related to a problem that affects the lungs or the lining of this organ, known as the pleura. The most common cases are flu and colds, but pain can also occur in more serious lung disorders, such as pneumonia or pulmonary embolism, for example.

Although it is less common, pain can also be a sign of problems in other locations, from the muscles to the heart, but in these situations, it is usually associated with other symptoms that do not just involve breathing.

In any case, the best option whenever this type of pain appears, especially if it lasts more than 3 days or is very intense, is to consult a pulmonologist or a general practitioner, to carry out diagnostic tests, such as an X-ray, identifying the possible cause and starting the most appropriate treatment.

Thus, the most common causes of back pain when breathing include:

1. Cold and flu

The flu and cold are very common health conditions that are caused by viruses entering the body, which cause symptoms such as runny nose, cough, excessive tiredness and even fever. However, although it is less common, both the flu and the cold can also lead to back pain when breathing, which is usually related to the accumulation of secretions in the airways or the fatigue of the respiratory muscles due to the act of breathing. to cough.

What to do: flu and cold viruses are naturally eliminated by the immune system itself after a few days. Therefore, it is best to adopt measures that help strengthen the body’s defenses and recover faster, such as resting and drinking plenty of fluids during the day. Check out simple tips to do at home and get rid of the flu faster.

2. Muscle strain

Muscle strain is another relatively common and not serious cause of pain when breathing. This condition happens when muscle fibers suffer small tears and, therefore, remain sore for 2 to 3 days. This can happen when you have made a greater effort with your back muscles, which can happen by having poor posture during the day, exercising at the gym or simply coughing very hard during a cold or flu situation.

What to do: The best form of treatment for muscle strain is rest, as it avoids the use of injured muscle fibers. Additionally, applying a cold compress to the area for the first 48 hours, 3 to 4 times a day, can also help relieve pain. See more about muscle strain and what to do.

3. Costocondrite

Costochondritis consists of inflammation of the cartilage that connects the sternum bone to the ribs. This condition usually causes severe pain in the chest, which can radiate to the back, especially when taking a deep breath. In addition to pain, costochondritis can also cause shortness of breath and pain when pressing on the sternum.

What to do: normally the pain caused by costochondritis improves with the application of hot compresses to the sternum region, in addition to rest and avoiding heavy exertion. However, when the pain is very severe, or makes it difficult to carry out daily activities, it is advisable to consult an orthopedist or general practitioner to assess the need to start treatment with medication, such as analgesics and anti-inflammatories. Learn more about this condition and its treatment.

4. Pneumonia

Although back pain when breathing is often just a symptom of the flu or cold, in situations where the pain worsens it may indicate a slightly more serious infection, such as pneumonia.

In these cases, in addition to pain, cough and runny nose, which are common in flu and colds, other signs and symptoms may also appear, such as intense difficulty breathing, fever above 38ºC and greenish or bloody phlegm, for example. See how to identify a pneumonia situation.

What to do: in case of suspected pneumonia, it is always very important to consult a doctor, to diagnose the problem and initiate the most appropriate treatment, which may include the use of antibiotics. However, since pneumonia can be quite contagious, especially if caused by a virus, it is recommended that, if possible, you wear a mask when leaving home.

5. Pulmonary embolism

Although it is rarer, pulmonary embolism is another problem that can cause intense back pain when breathing. This condition happens when one of the lung vessels is blocked by a clot, which prevents the flow of blood to some parts of the lung. When this happens, in addition to pain, it is common for symptoms such as intense shortness of breath, coughing up blood and bluish skin, for example.

Embolism can occur in anyone, but it is more common in people with a history of thrombosis, who have clotting problems, who are overweight or who have a very sedentary lifestyle.

What to do: since it is a very serious situation, whenever there is a suspicion of having a pulmonary embolism, it is recommended to go to the emergency room as quickly as possible, to confirm the diagnosis and start treatment, which normally starts with the use of medicines that help destroy the clot, such as heparin. Understand better what embolism is, what the symptoms are and how to treat it.

6. Pleurisia

Pleurisy, or pleuritis, is another condition that can cause intense back pain when breathing and that happens when some type of liquid accumulates between the two layers of the pleura, which is the membrane that covers the lungs. When this happens, the pleura becomes inflamed and the pain tends to worsen when you take a deep breath or cough. In addition, other symptoms include very frequent coughing, feeling short of breath and persistent low-grade fever.

Although it is not considered a serious condition, pleurisy can be an important sign, as it usually appears in people who have another respiratory problem and can mean that the treatment for that problem is not working.

What to do: suspected pleurisy should always be evaluated by a doctor, which is why it is recommended to go to the hospital. Treatment almost always starts with an anti-inflammatory to relieve inflammation in the pleura and improve symptoms, but the doctor also needs to identify the cause of the pleurisy. See more about pleurisy, how to identify and treat it.

7. Pericarditis

Back pain when breathing is almost always related to a lung problem, however, it can also occur in some heart problems, such as pericarditis. Pericarditis is inflammation of the membrane that covers the heart muscle, the pericardium, which in addition to severe pain in the chest, can also cause intense pain that radiates to the back, especially when trying to take a deep breath.

Pericarditis is more common in people who have some type of infection or inflammation in another part of the body, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, rheumatoid arthritis or even a cavity. See how to identify a situation of pericarditis.

What to do: treating pericarditis can be relatively easy, especially when the problem is identified at an early stage. Therefore, if there is a suspicion of a heart problem, it is advisable to consult a cardiologist so that he can evaluate the symptoms, as well as the health history, arriving at the diagnosis and indicating the most appropriate treatment.

8. Heart attack

Although the most common symptom of a heart attack is the appearance of very intense pain, in the form of tightness, in the chest, there are also cases in which the pain begins with a slight discomfort in the back that worsens when breathing. Other symptoms that may be associated are tingling in one of the arms, usually the left, nausea and general malaise, as well as difficulty breathing.

Although it is relatively rare, heart attack is an increasingly common situation, especially in those who have some risk factors, such as eating an unbalanced diet, being a smoker, constantly living in stress or having a history of high blood pressure, diabetes or cholesterol.

What to do: Whenever a heart attack is suspected, it is very important to go to the hospital quickly, as the sooner it is diagnosed, the greater the chances of treating the problem and preventing complications from arising. Learn more about how to recognize a possible heart attack.