Why Do I Have Back Pain When Breathing?

Back pain can occur for a wide variety of reasons, and it often comes down to related symptoms to figure out the exact cause. In the case of having back pain when breathing, the possible causes may be narrowed down based largely upon the location.

What Does My Back Hurt When I Breathe?

The most common cause is simple muscle strain. However, the muscles in the back work with specific parts of the abdomen, so the location of the pain gives a good indicator of what your physician might rule out in the event the pain isn’t simple strain.

Lower Back Pain

The lower back muscles work along with the diaphragm and lower chest muscles when breathing. These muscles are more susceptible to strain than those in the upper back, and movement of a strained muscle can lead to pain when inhaling or even muscle spasms.

Upper Back Pain

The muscles in the upper back work with other muscles that are used when breathing, and expand when you inhale. Any strain or injury to these muscles will result in pain as they move. Strained back muscles are commonly caused by over-exertion or heavy exercise without properly stretching before and after. Strains are one of the most common causes of back pain between the shoulder blades.

Another source of upper back pain is a sprained rib muscle. A sprained muscle between ribs can make taking a deep breathe really painful. This sharp pain would usually be located in your mid to upper back and you may possibly experience chest pain.

Other Causes of Back Pain when Breathing

Injury to the back or ribs may not be the source of your back pain. There are numerous problems which may cause back pain when breathing, some of which are very serious.


Cancer is known to cause a wide variety of symptoms, and back pain while breathing may be one of those symptoms. Typically, cancer must be ruled out by your physician.

Cardio and Lung Issues

The heart and lungs are connected by a layer of tissue known as the pericardium. If this tissue becomes inflamed, it can cause pain with each breath. Back pain along with tightness in the chest may also be a sign of heart attack.

A third potential culprit is pleurisy, which causes chest and back pain, especially when taking a deep breath.

Gall Bladder Infection

An infected gall bladder causes abdominal pain, usually on the right side, The pain can also affect the middle back and is becomes worse with deep breaths.

Kidney Pain

The kidneys are located in the lower back to either side of the spine. A a result, kidney pain often translates to the lower back. Kidney stones, for example, may cause a sharp pain in the lower back when breathing.

Kidney infections are another problem which can result in pain that radiates to the lower back, sides, groin, or elsewhere in your abdomen. Finally, renal failure is an extreme form of kidney problem that can cause back pain. Bloody or foul-smelling urine, more frequent bathroom trips, fever, and an upset stomach are also common symptoms of kidney problems.


An excess amount of stored fat causes strain on almost every part of the body. It can weigh down on the lungs and strains the back muscles. As a result, shortness of breath or back pain that flares when inhaling are both known side effects.


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(Editor at Back Pained) – Adam is a former longtime back pain sufferer who is now pain-free. He has created this site to help others get back pain relief at home as an alternative to expensive specialist appointments or physical therapy that may or may not work. A research junkie, he's spent considerable time determining which of the countless back pain products actually work and which ones are a waste of money. He now enjoys spending time on the basketball court re-learning that jump shot from when he last played in high school.

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