Upper back pain when breathing has a wide range of possible causes. These include infections, injuries, and heart problems.

If the cause is not obvious, a person may wish to seek medical advice. Pain when breathing can be a symptom of a serious health condition.

Pain in the upper back when breathing usually extends around the chest. A sharp pain could be a sign of pleurisy or a heart attack. A dull ache might be due to a fractured vertebra or muscle strain.

Looking out for other symptoms can sometimes help a person identify the cause of the pain. If upper back pain is causing ongoing difficulty breathing, it is important to seek medical advice, as there may be a serious cause.

Pain can make a person avoid taking deep breaths. Shallow breathing can result in insufficient oxygen getting into the body, which may damage health over time.

Keep reading to learn more about some of the possible causes of upper back pain when breathing.

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The possible causes of upper back pain while breathing range from a strained muscle to a serious underlying condition.

Pleurisy affects the tissue covering the outside of the lungs. An infection makes this tissue swell, causing chest pain and difficulty breathing. A person may also feel pain in the shoulder.

The condition typically causes a sharp pain in the chest, which gets worse when a person breathes in. Other symptoms can include a cough, fever, tiredness, and a fast heart rate.

Pleurisy may improve without treatment, or resting and taking pain relievers may be sufficient. However, in some cases, a person may need treatment in the hospital to remove air or fluid from around the lungs. Medication can help reduce swelling or get rid of an infection.

Muscle strain is a common cause of upper back pain. It can cause pain when breathing, as moving air in and out of the lungs stretches the back muscles.

A person may strain the muscles in their upper back as a result of exercise, injury, or lifting something heavy.

They can treat a muscle strain with rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and ice. Applying a towel-wrapped ice pack to the upper back for up to 20 minutes regularly throughout the day should ease pain and swelling.

The vertebrae are bones that make up the spine. A person may fracture a vertebra in a serious accident, such as a car crash or a fall from a height. It can also happen as a sports injury.

Older adults who have osteoporosis have weaker bones. Due to this, they are at higher risk for fracturing a vertebra, even from a minor accident, such as a fall from standing.

If a person fractures a vertebra in the upper part of the spine, it can cause pain in the upper back when breathing. This pain often gets worse with movement.

The type of treatment will depend on the severity of the fracture. A back brace, physical therapy exercises, and a gradual return to normal movement can help a person heal.

Panic disorder is a condition in which a person has panic attacks, as well as anxiety about the possibility of these attacks.

Sudden fear or anxiety happens alongside other symptoms, which can include chest pain and difficulty breathing. Other possible symptoms are sweating, shaking, dizziness, and a racing heart.

Treatment involves therapy, medication, and relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises may help if a person feels as though they are about to have a panic attack.

A person may need to try different treatments before they find something that works well for them.

Scoliosis is a condition that causes a sideways curve of the spine. Depending on the severity of the condition, a person may also have back pain. Other possible symptoms include slightly uneven shoulders or hips and the body leaning to one side.

Back pain can cause discomfort or pain when breathing. For children and teenagers, a back brace or surgery can help stop a curve in the spine from developing any further. Exercises can help strengthen the back muscles and support the spine to reduce pain.

Problems with the heart can cause chest and back pain, as well as breathing difficulties. Although heart attacks can occur suddenly, most start slowly. Females are more likely than males to experience back pain as a symptom of a heart attack.

Arrhythmia describes a heartbeat that is irregular. Without a diagnosis, the problem can go on for a long time and cause complications. These can include chest pain and shortness of breath.

A heart attack is a medical emergency. Dial 911 if a person has any of these symptoms:

  • chest pain
  • feeling sick or dizzy
  • pain in the back, neck, or jaw
  • shortness of breath
  • pain in the arm or shoulder

Pneumonia and bronchitis are common chest infections. Chest infections cause part of the lungs to swell, leading to symptoms that include a cough, fever, and a temperature.

Chest infections can make breathing difficult, and muscle aches and pains can affect the whole body. Chest and back pain may be more painful when a person breathes in.

It is possible to treat a mild chest infection at home with rest, fluids, and pain relievers. However, people should seek medical advice for a more serious infection or for a child or older adult.

If the upper back hurts when a person breathes, they may have strained a muscle. If this symptom occurs after an accident or injury, it is important to see a doctor, who can check for any damage to the spine.

Pleurisy and chest infections can both cause pain when breathing. A person may need medication to get rid of the infection.

A sharp pain and difficulty breathing could indicate a more serious medical problem, such as a heart attack. People should, therefore, seek urgent medical attention for sharp chest pain.