Back pain when breathing is usually the result of a muscular problem in the upper back. Back muscles are situated very close to the lungs; when we inhale, the lungs expand, forcing the muscles in the upper back and chest to move. A muscle strain in the upper back can cause this movement to result in sharp pain or aching.
The muscles of the upper back – the latissimus dorsi, stretching from the mid-back to beneath the armpit, the rhomboids, stretching from the shoulder blade to just below the neck, and the trapezius, stretching from mid-spine to the shoulder and neck – can cause pain while breathing when they are strained. These muscles become strained either by injury or prolonged poor posture.
Rigorous sports or poor body mechanics can leave you with an injured upper back muscle. These muscles, used mostly in pushing and pulling efforts, may become strained if the work you are attempting to do outweighs your muscles’ strength.
To correct back pain when breathing caused by an injury, you must allow the injured muscle to repair itself by avoiding activities that stress the muscle. Once the muscle is healed, you can gradually recondition your upper back to be strong and capable.
Poor posture is likely a more widespread cause of back pain when breathing than back injury. Slouching, that classic example of poor posture, causes the pectoral muscles in the chest and the teres minor muscle in the armpit to shorten in length, since the upper back is hunched over and the shoulders are stooped in this position. These muscles become chronically tense, exerting a pull on the shoulders and back. As the upper back muscles are overstretched and strained, they grow weaker.
Strained muscles cause pain when we attempt to use them. With every breath, back muscles are being moved. This constant employment of weak muscles can lead to chronic upper back pain, noticeably triggered by every breath.
The situation worsens when back muscles begin to spasm. To begin with, strained muscles have a difficult time receiving a healthy amount of fresh blood flow. Blood is pumped in and out of muscles during a relaxation/contraction cycle. Since strained muscles cannot properly relax or contract, they are not receiving the proper amount of nutrients and oxygen from blood. Oxygen-deprived muscles go into spasms, or forced contraction; this is the body’s way of trying to end pain and protect the muscle by limiting motion. Yet upper back muscles must move in order for us to breathe; when they are in spasm, the motion can cause severe pain. The risk of back spasm in this situation is increased by the fact that the hunched posture constricts the lungs and limits the amount of oxygen circulating through the body.
If poor posture is the cause of your pain, then retraining your body to improve posture will be necessary for treatment. First, the tight muscles in the chest must be restored to their natural length. This is best done with the use of a foam roller in a technique called self-myofascial reslease. Once the muscles of the chest have been elongated, the upper back muscles can be conditioned to hold the head upright. Refer to http://www.everydayhealth.com/back-pain/upper-back-exercises.aspx for a list of exercises anyone can do to strengthen their upper backs.
Practicing proper posture is about more than having enough strength; since your body has learned the old pattern, it will take focus and possibly the assistance of ergonomic accessories like lumbar supports, cushions and foot rests to encourage proper posture. If the damage done by your previous posture is severe, you may need a physical therapist or other professional to guide you through exercises and stretches for many of your body’s muscles.
Back pain when breathing is rarely the sign of a serious condition affecting your lungs. If you have chest pain with back pain, it is wise to see a doctor. Otherwise, your pain is likely a sign that your back muscles are unhealthy and need attention. Breathing shouldn’t be a pain; begin your back pain management plan sooner rather than later.