Physiotherapy for Back Pain Articles
Causes and Solutions for Back Pain When Breathing In

Causes and Solutions for Back Pain When Breathing In

Back pain is a common ailment known to affect 80% of adults in Singapore. While it can be caused by a variety of factors, one particular cause that often goes unnoticed is back pain when breathing in. This type of back pain can be both alarming and debilitating, making it difficult to perform everyday tasks.

In this article, we will explore the various causes of back pain when breathing in, including conditions related to lifestyle and injuries or deformities. We will also discuss when back pain may require prompt medical attention and the available treatment options.

Understanding the Chest Cavity

The chest cavity plays a crucial role in respiration, protection, and the functioning of multiple systems in the body. Also known as the thoracic cavity, it's the second largest hollow space in the body, enclosed by the rib cage, vertebral column, and sternum (breastbone), and is separated from the abdominal cavity by the diaphragm.

The chest cavity contains various vital organs and structures, including the lungs, airways, heart, blood vessels, and oesophagus. It's lined with a serous membrane called the pleura, which secretes a thin fluid to reduce friction during respiratory movements.

Causes of Back Pain While Breathing

As mentioned, the chest cavity or thoracic cavity, enclosed by several anatomical structures, protects many internal organs and structures. Any injury or trauma within or around the thoracic cavity may result in back or chest pain, with some warranting the patient to seek immediate medical care. Here are possible causes of back pain, especially while breathing deeply:

Conditions Related to Lifestyle

Several lifestyle factors can contribute to back pain when breathing in. Here are some of them:


Excess body weight from normal adds stress on the spine, resulting in heightened pressure on the intervertebral discs and joints. This can result in disc degeneration, herniation, or compression of nerves, causing back pain. Obesity is also associated with respiratory problems that can affect breathing and can contribute to back pain.

Improper sleeping positions

Improper sleeping positions can contribute to back pain when breathing in by putting strain on the spine and affecting the alignment of the body. Sleeping in awkward positions can lead to misalignment of the spinal column, causing pain and discomfort.


Heartburn itself may not directly cause back pain when breathing in. However, in some cases, severe heartburn can lead to referred pain that radiates to the back and chest. This pain can be mistaken for back pain when breathing in.

Injuries or Deformities

Injuries and deformities can also be a significant cause of back pain when breathing in.

Muscle strain is a common injury that can occur from lifting heavy objects or sudden movements. This strain can cause pain that worsens when taking deep breaths.

Bruised or broken ribs or vertebrae can also lead to back pain when breathing in. The impact of a fall or accident can cause fractures or contusions, resulting in discomfort during respiration.

Additionally, scoliosis, a condition characterised by an abnormal curvature of the spine, can cause back pain when breathing in. The altered shape of the spine puts pressure on the surrounding muscles and nerves, leading to pain.

Another condition that can contribute to back pain when breathing in is a herniated disc. This occurs when the jelly-like substance within a spinal disc leaks, putting pressure on nearby nerves and causing pain.

Conditions that May Signal a Medical Emergency

While most cases of back pain when breathing in are not life-threatening, there are certain conditions requiring immediate medical attention. Here are some conditions that may warrant immediate or emergency medical attention:


Pleurisy, also known as pleuritis, is the inflammation of the lining around the lungs or the inside wall of the chest. When pleurisy is present, breathing in deeply or coughing can worsen the pain, as it puts strain on the inflamed pleurae. This strain can also affect the back, leading to back pain when breathing in. It can cause sharp, stabbing pain in the chest and back, which worsens with breathing.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a life-threatening respiratory illness that occurs when a blood clot travels to the lungs. It can contribute to back pain when breathing in when the blood clot obstructs blood flow to the lungs, causing increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries. This increased pressure can then be transmitted to the adjacent structures, including the chest wall and back muscles, leading to pain and discomfort.

Lung cancer

Lung cancer can contribute to back pain when breathing in due to various reasons, which include the tumour itself pressing on the nerves in the spine or back. Another reason is the cancer spreading outside of the lungs can affect the bones or spine, resulting in back pain.

Heart attack

A myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, occurs when the blood flow to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked, leading to tissue death in the heart muscle. While a heart attack itself may not directly cause back pain when breathing in, it can lead to referred pain that radiates to the back and chest and may be accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. If you suspect you may be experiencing a heart attack, it is crucial to seek immediate medical help.

When Does Back Pain Need Prompt Medical Attention?

While most cases of back pain when breathing in can be managed with conservative measures, certain red flags warrant immediate medical attention. If you experience sudden, severe back pain that is accompanied by difficulty breathing, chest pain, or numbness and weakness in the extremities, it's important to seek medical help as soon as possible. These symptoms may indicate a serious underlying condition that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment Options for Back Pain When Breathing

In many cases, back pain, when breathing in, resolves on its own with time and rest. If the pain is mild and does not persist or worsen, a wait-and-see approach may be appropriate. During this time, it's important to avoid activities that exacerbate the pain and to practice good posture to relieve strain on the back. However, if the wait-and-see approach and resting doesn't alleviate the pain, it's time to consider the following treatment options:

Over-the-Counter Medication

For mild to moderate back pain when breathing in, over-the-counter pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can provide temporary relief. These medications help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. However, it is important to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists or worsens.


Physiotherapy can be an effective treatment option for back pain when breathing in. A physiotherapist such as that from Phoenix Rehab can assess the underlying causes of the pain and develop a personalised treatment plan focusing on back pain physiotherapy.

This may include exercises to strengthen the back muscles, improve posture, and increase flexibility. Manual therapy techniques, such as massage and spinal manipulation, may also be utilised to alleviate pain and improve mobility.


In severe cases of back pain when breathing is caused by structural issues or injuries, it may be necessary for the patient to undergo a surgical procedure. Surgical interventions aim to correct deformities, repair damaged structures, or relieve pressure on nerves. However, surgery is typically considered a last resort when conservative measures have failed to provide relief.

Final Words

Back pain, when breathing in, can significantly impact our quality of life and hinder our ability to perform daily activities. If you are experiencing back pain when breathing in, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the underlying cause and develop an effective treatment plan. With the right approach, it is possible to alleviate pain, improve breathing, and restore overall back health.

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