Signs Your Back Pain Means Serious Trouble

upper back pain when breathing
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Fully understanding the back takes years of study and practice. Everyone is affected differently by upper back discomfort. That’s partly due to the fact that there are so many causes of upper back (and mid back) discomfort. Understanding why your upper back pain is occurring is the first step in resolving it. To do so, begin by studying your anatomy. Upper back pain when breathing and pain in between shoulder blades sometimes stem from easily fixable problems, while others mean serious trouble. The best way to find out which category you fall into is to visit a Dallas orthopedic specialist.

At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, we understand that chronic pain often keeps you from doing the things you love. We’re here to help get you back on your feet and back in the game with orthopedic treatments and physical therapy in Dallas. Our highly-trained, qualified specialists treat a variety of conditions related to not only the back, but also the rest of the body. If you’d like to schedule an appointment with us, please call 469-200-2832 or fill out our online intake form.

Why Does My Upper Back Hurt?

Generally, upper back pain comes from injuries to the soft tissue, such as muscle strains or sprains. Poor posture or looking downward for long lengths of time also causes muscle tension in the area, which leads to pain. Unfortunately, back pain is extremely common for many people holding many different types of jobs. The following list includes common activities and behaviors that often lead to upper back pain.

  • Bad posture
  • Looking downward while texting
  • Twisting the back
  • Neck injuries such as whiplash
  • Improper lifting technique
  • Overuse
  • Repetitive movements
  • Contact sports
  • Carrying a load that is too heavy
  • Wearing a backpack that is too heavy

Especially in older patients, this list elongates even more. Specifically, we look for signs of osteoporosis, compression fractures, or conditions such as multiple myeloma or lymphoma. However, thoracic spine (upper middle spine) issues aren’t relegated to the elderly population. While younger patients often experience a simple strain, we often examine patients to rule out the following problems.

What Causes Upper Back Pain When Breathing?

The causes of upper back pain when breathing are numerous. Infections, injuries, and heart issues are among them. A person may desire to seek medical assistance if the cause is not clear. When it comes to breathing, upper back discomfort might be a sign of a significant health problem. When breathing, pain in the upper back generally radiates around the chest. Pleurisy or a heart attack can both cause severe discomfort. A broken vertebra or a muscular strain might cause dull pain.

Other symptoms might sometimes enable a person to figure out what’s causing their discomfort. If upper back discomfort is causing you to have trouble breathing, you should visit a doctor since there might be a significant underlying reason. A person suffering from pain may find it difficult to take deep breaths. Shallow breathing can result in a lack of oxygen in the body, which can be harmful to one’s health over time. Below, we list the most common issues leading to upper back pain when breathing.

  • Pleurisy
  • Muscle strain
  • Vertebral fracture
  • Panic disorder
  • Scoliosis
  • Arrhythmia or heart attack
  • Chest infection

What Causes Pain in Between Shoulder Blades?

Interscapular discomfort, often known as shoulder blade pain, can be caused by a variety of factors. While muscular strain is the most common cause of this symptom, it’s crucial to remember that it might potentially indicate something more serious, such as a heart attack or lung cancer. Because pain is your body’s method of informing you that something is wrong, it’s critical to figure out what’s bothering you.

An issue with any of the structures that are situated between the shoulder blades might cause pain between the shoulder blades. Because of the way nerves send pain signals, the issue might start in different parts of the body that are far away from the shoulder blades and create pain near the shoulder blades. Health care professionals call this “referred pain.” Some of the causes of pain in between shoulder blades include the following.

  • Muscle strain
  • Trauma to the area
  • Bulging or herniated disc
  • Arthritis
  • Heart attack
  • Cancer
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Acid reflux
  • Scoliosis
  • Aortic dissection
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Compression fractures
  • Shingles
  • Epidural anesthesia

How Do I Know If My Back Pain Is Serious?

Is back or neck discomfort a symptom of anything more serious? Absolutely. While back discomfort is common and typically harmless and self-limiting, some signs and symptoms may suggest a more serious medical issue that needs further assessment and treatment. We’ve compiled a list of red flags to keep in mind while assessing the severity of your back pain.

  • Fevers
  • Weight loss you didn’t plan
  • Bloody urine or stool
  • Numbness or weakness in legs
  • Difficulty or inability to have a bowel movement or to urinate
  • Loss of control of the bladder or bowel
  • Pain during the night
  • Balance issues

Types of Back Pain

Understanding how back pain is characterized might help you figure out what to do about it. The majority of back pain patients fall into one of two categories: acute or chronic.

Acute Back Pain

If your back pain is severe, it’s likely that it started suddenly. Acute back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including stress, intense activity, an uncomfortable movement, or moving something incorrectly. The majority of back pain is classified as acute. The discomfort from acute back pain usually lasts no more than six weeks. And, in the vast majority of cases, the underlying source of the pain isn’t a significant or long-term issue.

Chronic Back Pain

On the other hand, chronic back discomfort can be harmful. Chronic pain is dangerous because the symptoms are severe enough to have a long-term impact on your health, mobility, and quality of life. Back problems can strike abruptly, but it generally develops over time and lasts longer than six weeks. Chronic back pain can also be recurring, meaning that it will go away for a while then return on a regular basis.

A fresh injury can produce chronic pain, but the true reason is generally underlying problems. One of the most prevalent causes is muscle deconditioning (when your back lacks strength and stability).

Symptoms of Back Pain

Acute and chronic pain can have very similar symptoms. The following are some of the signs and symptoms of back pain.

  • Shooting, burning, or aching pain that persists or returns despite the use of home treatments such as ice, over-the-counter medicines, massage, or physical therapy
  • Stiffness or tightness, especially after extended durations of lying, sitting, or standing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weakness in the lower extremities, like numbness or tingling

When Should I Seek Treatment for Back Pain?

Whether you feel your back pain is chronic or acute, if you’re in pain for more than two weeks and haven’t seen any relief in your symptoms, we highly advise you to get medical help. Finding a physical therapy center and making an appointment is a wonderful place to start whether the discomfort is new or you know you’ve injured something. Our physical therapists will provide strengthening and mobility routines that are specifically tailored to your requirements.

Acute back pain generally goes away after a few weeks. Chronic pain, on the other hand, seldom improves without medical assistance. Why? While home cures and short-term back pain treatments are beneficial, they only give temporary relief and do not address the root causes of persistent pain. If you’re faced with the possibility of surgery, it’s important to choose the right surgeon for your condition. For information on whether you should choose a neurosurgeon vs orthopedic surgeon, read our related blog.

Causes of Upper Back Pain When Breathing

When you feel upper back pain when breathing, it can be confusing and frustrating. Work with your doctor to figure out what’s causing your pain, which might be one of the following.

  • Injury 
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung cancer
  • Scoliosis
  • Problematic kyphosis
  • Osteoporosis

Risk Factors for Back Pain

Back discomfort may affect anybody, even toddlers and teenagers. These variables may increase your chances of experiencing back discomfort.

  • Age: Back discomfort becomes increasingly frequent as you age, beginning around the age of 30 or 40.
  • Lack of exercise: Back discomfort can be caused by weak, underused muscles in the back and abdomen.
  • Excess weight: Your back is put under additional strain if you are overweight.
  • Disease: Back discomfort can be caused by some forms of arthritis and cancer.
  • Poor lifting techniques: Back discomfort might result from using your back instead of your legs.
  • Smoking: Back discomfort is more common in smokers. This might be due to the fact that smoking causes increased coughing, which can lead to herniated disks. Smoking can also reduce blood flow to the spine, putting you at risk for osteoporosis.

How to Prevent Back Pain

By improving your physical condition and understanding and practicing appropriate body mechanics, you may be able to avoid or prevent back discomfort. Keep the following in mind to maintain a healthy back.

  • Exercise regularly: Low-impact aerobic exercises, or those that don’t strain or shock your back, can help you build back strength and endurance, as well as improve the function of your muscles. Swimming and walking are both wonderful options. Discuss the hobbies you might want to attempt with your doctor.
  • Build up your flexibility and muscle strength: Exercises that build your core, such as abdominal and back muscle strengthening, help train these muscles to function together.
  • Maintain a proper weight: Obesity puts a pressure on the back muscles. If you’re overweight, losing weight might help you avoid back discomfort.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking raises your chances of developing low back discomfort. Because the risk rises with the amount of cigarettes smoked each day, stopping should help lower it.

How to Diagnose Upper Back Pain When Breathing

Your back will be examined, and your ability to sit, stand, walk, and lift your legs will be assessed. Your doctor may also ask you to score your pain on a scale of one to ten and discuss how well you’re managing your discomfort. These tests can reveal the source of your discomfort, how much you can move before pain causes you to stop, and whether you have muscular spasms. They can also aid in the elimination of more severe causes of back pain.

If your doctor suspects a specific ailment is causing your back discomfort, he or she may request one or more of the following tests.

  • X-ray: These scans reveal how your bones are aligned, as well as if you have arthritis or fractured bones. However, these scans will not reveal any issues with your spinal cord, muscles, nerves, or disks on their own.
  • MRI or CT scan: Herniated disks, as well as issues with bones, muscles, tissue, tendons, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels, can be discovered with these scans.
  • Blood test: These might enable you to figure out if you have an infection or another disease that’s causing your discomfort.
  • Bone scan: A bone scan may be performed in rare situations to check for bone cancers or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis.
  • Nerve studies: The electrical impulses produced by your nerves and the reactions of your muscles are measured using electromyography (EMG). This test can determine if nerve compression is the result of herniated disks or a narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis).

How to Treat Pain in Between Shoulder Blades

The majority of back pain improves after a month of home therapy. Back pain, on the other hand, is a complicated problem that affects everyone differently. Many people’s discomfort lasts a few months, but only a few people experience chronic, severe pain. You may just require over-the-counter pain medications and the use of heat. Bed rest is not advised.

Continue your activities to the extent that you are able. Light exercise, such as walking and daily activities, are good options. Stop doing things that make you hurt, but don’t stop doing things because you’re afraid of getting hurt. If home remedies fail after a few weeks, your doctor may prescribe stronger medicines or other treatments.

You can even use heat therapy or cold therapy depending on your specific needs. If you’re wondering “Is heat or ice better for back pain?”, we answer that question in our related blog.

Physical Therapy

Exercises to promote flexibility, strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, and improve your posture can be taught by a physical therapist. The practice of these strategies on a regular basis can help prevent discomfort from recurring. Physical therapists will also educate you on how to alter your motions during a back pain episode to minimize flare-ups of pain while staying active.

Surgery and Other Options

  • Cortisone shots: If previous treatments don’t work and your pain is radiating down your leg, your doctor may inject cortisone, a powerful anti-inflammatory medicine, along with a numbing agent into the area around your spinal cord. The pain relief from a cortisone injection helps to reduce inflammation around the nerve roots, but it generally only lasts a month or two.
  • Radiofrequency neurotomy: A tiny needle is put through your skin such that the tip is near the region causing your discomfort in this treatment. Radio waves are transmitted via the needle, damaging surrounding nerves and interfering with pain signal transmission to the brain.
  • Implanted nerve stimulators: Electrical impulses can be sent to specific nerves using devices implanted beneath the skin to suppress pain signals.
  • Surgery: You may benefit from surgery if you have relentless discomfort with radiating leg pain or growing muscle weakening caused by nerve compression. These operations are generally reserved for discomfort that hasn’t responded to prior treatments and is caused by structural issues such as constriction of the spine or a herniated disk.

Contact SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy Today

At SPORT Orthopedics + Physical Therapy, our specialists handle a variety of problems and conditions resulting from a variety of causes. If you’re looking to treat your injuries and get back to your active lifestyle, we’re here for you. Our skilled orthopedic specialists and physical therapists will work with you to achieve as fast and comfortable a recovery as possible. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please call 469-200-2832 today.