Possible causes of lower back pain when coughing include disk herniation, muscle strain, spinal stenosis, and more. Treatments can depend on the cause.

Coughing may worsen existing lower back pain for some people, whereas for others, lower back pain may only become noticeable when they cough.

Coughing can cause a person to lean forward slightly. This position can put stress on the lower back and may displace the vertebrae, or spinal bones, making lower back pain worse.

In this article, we cover some of the possible causes of lower back pain when coughing, as well as treatment options and when to see a doctor.

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Between the spinal bones are protective disks that cushion the spine and act as shock absorbers. Due to normal wear and tear, these disks can slip out of place or protrude. Doctors call this disk herniation.

A 2016 article reported that people with severe sciatica were more likely to have disk herniation if their leg pain became worse when coughing.

Sciatica is pain that results from the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve.

Sometimes, a herniated disk presses on the nerve roots that make up the sciatic nerve in the lower back and legs.

Disk herniation can cause tingling and numbness down the lower back and in one or both legs. Severe disk herniation can lead to symptoms such as incontinence of the bowel or bladder.

To relieve the pain of disk herniation, a person can try resting the back, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and applying a cloth-covered ice pack for 10 minutes several times per day.

In severe cases, a person may need surgery to repair the herniated disk.

Sometimes, a bout of intense or sudden coughing can put unexpected pressure on the back. This pressure can lead to a temporary injury, such as a muscle strain, which doctors may refer to as a pulled muscle.

The pain can become more intense with certain positions or activities, including coughing. A person may also experience back stiffness, muscle spasms, or muscle tenderness.

Taking NSAIDs, resting the back for a day or two, avoiding postures and positions that worsen the pain, and applying a cloth-covered ice pack to the affected area can all help promote recovery.

If the symptoms do not subside within 6-8 weeks, however, a person should see their doctor.

Learn more about the differences between strains and sprains here.

As a person ages, their spinal column starts to narrow, and this can put more pressure on the spinal nerves.

Being in certain positions can put even more pressure on the nerves and cause lower back pain.

Spinal stenosis can also cause numbness or cramping pain in the lower back and legs. It may also affect sexual function, cause problems with bowel or bladder function, and, in severe cases, lead to loss of leg function.

To reduce the effects of spinal stenosis, a person can try exercising to build up the muscles in the back to help support and strengthen them.

It may also help to take NSAIDs or prescription medications to relieve muscle spasms. Some doctors may recommend steroid injections and possibly even surgery if the symptoms are severe.

Lung cancer is a rare but possible cause of lower back pain when coughing. Experiencing bone pain can indicate that the condition has spread to the spine.

Some other symptoms of lung cancer include:

The treatment options for lung cancer depend on the severity of the condition. Typical treatments include radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumor and surgery to remove it.

Learn more here about the stages of lung cancer.

A person can try several home remedies to help improve their lower back pain. The following techniques may help:

  • Applying a cloth-covered heat or ice pack may ease pain, reduce inflammation, and improve mobility.
  • Taking NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, to relieve discomfort.
  • Engaging in low impact exercise, such as walking or swimming. These can help reduce muscle tension in the back and relieve inflammation.
  • Doing core stabilization exercises can enhance spinal support, improve posture, and reduce the risk of future lower back pain episodes.

Some people have also found relief from lower back pain by trying alternative therapies, such as massage and acupuncture.

A person should seek emergency medical care if they experience any symptoms that indicate that they may have severe nerve compression or illness. Such symptoms include:

  • a change in bowel or bladder function
  • unusual sensations in the legs or “saddle” area of the pelvis
  • very high fever (above 103°F or 39.4°C) along with coughing and lower back pain
  • weakness in the legs or arms

These symptoms may require emergency antibiotic treatment or even surgery to relieve nerve compression.

Other symptoms that indicate that a person should visit a doctor include:

  • back pain that does not improve with home remedies
  • back pain that limits everyday activities
  • tingling or numbness that seems to come and go

A doctor may recommend seeing a specialist if symptoms persist.

Below are some commonly asked questions related to lower back pain when coughing.

How can I tell if my back pain is lung-related?

To determine if back pain is lung-related, a person should check if the pain is in the upper back and worsens with breathing or coughing.

It is important to look for accompanying respiratory symptoms like persistent cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, or chest pain.

Fever and chills, along with back pain, may suggest an infection like pneumonia.

If the individual is a smoker or has a history of smoking, lung-related causes are more likely.

When I cough, it feels like needles in my back?

Needle-like sensations in the back when a person coughs could indicate various health issues, including muscle strain, irritation of nerves, or possibly even lung or spine injuries.

It’s essential that a person consults with a healthcare professional to determine the cause and appropriate treatment.

Can you feel pneumonia in your back?

Yes, a person can feel pneumonia in their back.

Pneumonia causes inflammation in the lungs, which can refer pain to the upper back. Persistent coughing associated with pneumonia can also strain back muscles, leading to pain.

If a person has symptoms like back pain, fever, cough, and shortness of breath, they should seek medical attention. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage pneumonia effectively.

Experiencing lower back pain when coughing may not happen often. However, if it is a common occurrence, it may indicate the presence of an underlying health condition.

If symptoms persist or are severe, a person should seek medical attention.

A variety of home remedies and medical treatments are available to help relieve lower back pain.