Experiencing upper back pain when breathing can be scary, but the good news is that it does not always signal a serious medical issue. In fact, the underlying problem is often a muscle injury. Spinal stenosis is another possibility, which involves the spine's ligaments and bones pressing on nerves in the area, though lung cancer may have similar symptoms. Pleurisy, or inflammation of the lungs, may also be the cause of upper back pain when exhaling and inhaling. Additionally, it may be the result of a temporary illness, such as pneumonia, or more serious disorders, such as lupus.
Breathing is a task that involves some of the back muscles, which is why pain in the upper back when breathing is often a sign of a pulled or sore muscle. The upper back muscles may be injured, though lower back, abdominal, and diaphragm muscles are also often affected by every breath. Each breath can cause a spasm in the muscle, which is why injuries to muscles in this area can be so hard to endure. Fortunately, the issue should go away once the muscle heals.
Some people experiencing this kind of pain when breathing may have spinal stenosis, in which the ligaments and bones put pressure on the nerves near the spine. To get rid of this issue, some of the bones and ligaments in question typically need to be removed. While this is not usually a life-threatening issue, lung cancer often has the same symptoms, especially when a nearby tumor gets large enough to create pressure in the back. Additionally, lung cancer can spread to the back bones, causing upper back pain, which is why patients should typically see a doctor soon after the discomfort begins.
In some cases, upper back pain when breathing is caused by lung inflammation, which is often called pleurisy since the lining over the lungs is called the pleura. The pain of pleurisy often comes from either inflamed pleura or a reduction in the fluid that is meant to lubricate the lungs, which makes every breath hurt. Some of the most common reasons behind lung inflammation include pneumonia and tuberculosis, both of which can typically be treated with prescription drugs.
Unfortunately, some causes of upper back pain when breathing come from severe chronic conditions. These include autoimmune disorders like lupus, which is a lifelong condition that usually comes with much more severe symptoms than just back pain when breathing. Other serious ailments that may cause upper back pain when inhaling and exhaling include sarcoidosis and cystic fibrosis, requiring diagnosis and treatment from a medical professional as soon as possible.