Approximately 80% of adults in the United States will experience some form of back pain at some point in their lives. Often this pain can be alleviated with rest, over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory products. If you are experiencing back pain while breathing, it may be an indication of another potentially serious health condition that exists. If your pain is significant or persistent, it is highly recommended that you seek medical attention. Let’s look at some of the most common reasons for breathing related to back pain.


Scoliosis is when the spine is curved to one side. It is often detected in children or young teenagers, yet adults may also have these problems. In more severe cases, the curvature may put some pressure on the lungs that lead to painful breathing. In serious cases, the individual may wear a back brace. In extreme cases, a surgical procedure may be necessary to correct the alignment of the spine. Other possible symptoms are as follows:

  • Numbness or weakening in the extremities (hands, feet, etc.)
  • Postural pain stemming from uneven shoulders or hips
  • Difficulty standing up straight for long periods of time
  • Shortness of breath


Another spinal condition is Kyphosis, which may cause postural problems resulting from a forward curve of the spine. It may be a problem that develops as a child or may result from an injury or aging. Some of the common symptoms are swelling and a sharp pain in the back. Some people experience pain while breathing and eating. Surgical treatment is typically reserved for extreme cases.

Heart Attack

In some instances, those who experience back pain when they breathe are experiencing a heart attack. This may be caused by a blood clot or another obstruction that impairs the flow of blood to the heart. This is a very serious condition which will typically be accompanied by other symptoms such as chest pain and dizziness.


Those who are excessively overweight are commonly placing significant pressure on their back and joints. These individuals may experience pain in their upper body when taking deep breaths. Losing weight, such as from diet and exercise, is likely to reduce or eliminate these symptoms and reduce the likelihood of heart disease.

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Lung Cancer

Approximately 25% of those suffering from lung cancer will experience significant back pain. Pain may originate in the chest area and worsen when coughing or breathing heavily.  A tumor in the lungs may create pressure on the spinal nerves. If the disease has progressed, cancer may spread from the lungs to the spine or hips further exacerbating pain in the upper torso. Back pain stemming from lung cancer may be recognized as follows:

  • Back pain occurs while the individual is at rest.
  • The pain gets worse at night.
  • Your back pain that increases as you rest in bed.
  • The pain does not seem to improve with physical therapy or other treatment options.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

People suffering from COPD have impaired respiratory function. They often have air that builds up in their lungs from an increasingly weakened diaphragm muscle at the base of the lungs. To compensate, these individuals may rely more on the muscles located in the neck or chest region to assist with breathing function. As a result, the muscles can quickly create pain that stems into the back and other risk factors.


There is a lining the surrounds the chest and lungs called the pleura, which may become swollen, a condition called pleurisy. When this swelling occurs, the lungs press against the chest and may create pain throughout the abdominals, back, and shoulder regions. Ordinarily, the pleura lining allows the lungs to move smoothly to expand and retract while breathing.

Thoracic Problems

The thoracic spine is composed of vertebrae that extend from the upper back and connect with the ribs. When there is a strain or fracture in this region, there is the potential for pain from the base of the neck down to the lower ribs. An individual who is suffering from these problems is very likely to experience pain when taking deep breaths.

Problems Involving the Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a thin muscle that is involved in the process of breathing. It is positioned just below the lungs. It is largely to pull air in when you breathe, and for expiration, when the air is released from the lungs. It is also connected to bones in the thoracic and lumbar region. Due to this connectedness, a strain or other injury to the diaphragm is very likely to create pain when breathing.

Back Pain Specialists in Maricopa and Pinal County

The professionals at the Arizona Pain and Spine Institute are experts in identifying, alleviating, and managing pain. Our staff is composed of seasoned medical providers in multiple specialties of care. We currently accept dozens of insurance plans and have three office locations for your convenience. Contact our office today at (480) 986-7246 to schedule an appointment.