What Causes Upper Back Pain When Breathing?

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Upper back pain is a common condition that affects many people. Various factors, such as poor posture, injury, or underlying medical conditions, can cause this type of pain. To help you better understand your potential sources of upper back pain when breathing, let’s look at some of the most common causes.

Pulmonary Causes

Pulmonary diseases are a group of medical conditions affecting the lungs, airways, and other respiratory system parts. These conditions can range from mild to severe, including asthma, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), emphysema, and lung cancer. In some cases, pulmonary diseases may be caused by environmental factors such as smoking or exposure to certain chemicals or toxins.


Pneumonia is a condition where the lungs become infected with bacteria, viruses, or other Pathogens. This infection can cause inflammation and damage to the lung tissue, causing shortness of breath, fever, chills, and loss of appetite, to name a few. When pneumonia affects the lower part of the lungs, it can cause chest pain, but it can also lead to upper back pain when the inflammation and infection spread to the pleura, which is the lining of the lungs.

This pain may be worse when taking deep breaths, as the movement of the lungs can irritate the inflamed pleura. If you are experiencing upper back pain in conjunction with other symptoms of pneumonia, seeking treatment at nearby urgent care in West Hartford, CT, is essential.


Pleurisy is caused by inflammation between two tissue layers in your chest. It is also referred to as pleuritic pain, and it can be experienced from the neck, through the upper back, and even to the lower abdomen. This localized rib cage-centered pain is usually felt when breathing deeply or even coughing or sneezing in some cases.

It is possible for the inflammation associated with pleurisy to cause neuropathy, a disorder where nerves are damaged due to poor blood flow. This could explain why such severe pain may occur when breathing deeply, as this movement may put extra pressure on these already tender nerves.

Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

This condition occurs when one or more arteries in the lungs become blocked, typically due to a blood clot formed elsewhere in the body. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism (PE) often include upper back pain, particularly when breathing deeply. This is caused by the decreased oxygen reaching your brain and muscles due to the embolism.

In severe cases, back pain can be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Chest tightness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Coughing blood


Note that acute PE typically happens quickly and without warning; if you are experiencing these symptoms, then it is essential to seek medical attention at a nearby urgent care in West Hartford, CT, as soon as possible. Untreated or delayed treatment could result in complications with serious health outcomes.

Musculoskeletal Causes

Strained Muscles

When our muscles become strained due to overexertion or injury, they can tense and seize up. This can result in tightness across your chest or upper back, making it painful to take a deep breath. Depending on the severity of the strain, a visit to local urgent care in West Hartford, CT, may be needed to diagnose and provide proper treatment for this issue.

Herniated Discs

Diagnosis of Upper Back Pain When Breathing​ - DOCS Urgent Care

Discs form the cushion between our vertebrae, so if a disc slips out of its proper place, it can put pressure on the delicate nerves in our spine. This often causes pain or numbness in the upper back and chest area that worsens when taking a deep breath. If you are experiencing this type of pain, head to reputable urgent care in West Hartford, CT. They can help identify if a herniated disc is causing discomfort.


Osteoporosis is when bones become fragile and brittle, making them vulnerable to fractures when exposed to sudden force or pressure. This can be especially painful if the fracture occurs in the spine, as this area contains many nerve endings that are very sensitive to pain. In addition, osteoporosis can cause upper back pain when breathing due to the extra pressure on the bones. Spinal fractures caused by osteoporosis may require urgent care treatment in West Hartford, CT, to avoid further complications.


Scoliosis is an excessive curvature in the spine that can be genetic and environmental. Symptoms of scoliosis include pain and stiffness in the upper back, often felt when breathing profoundly or standing up straight. If you are experiencing these symptoms, schedule a consultation with your urgent care provider in West Hartford, CT, to diagnose your condition and provide treatment to alleviate your discomfort.

Cardiac Causes


Angina is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. This can cause radiating discomfort that extends into the upper back area, particularly when taking deep breaths. If you are experiencing pain like this, urgent care in West Hartford, CT, can help determine if you have angina-related pain and provide treatment.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart muscle, causing it to become damaged or die. This extreme form of chest pain is usually accompanied by tightness in the chest, upper back, and sometimes even arms and shoulders. If you suspect you may have a heart attack, we highly encourage you to visit nearby urgent care in West Hartford, CT, to provide urgent evaluations, diagnosis, and treatment of the condition.

Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection is a life-threatening condition caused by a tear in the innermost layer of the aorta. This can cause sudden and intense chest pain that radiates to the upper back and shoulder area, making it challenging to take a deep breath. If you are experiencing this kind of pain, please seek help from your trusted urgent care in West Hartford, CT, immediately.

Symptoms of Upper Back Pain When Breathing

Upper back pain, when breathing, can present in different ways, depending on the underlying cause of the condition. The most common symptoms of upper back pain when breathing is:

  • Pain on Inhalation
  • Pain on Exhalation
  • Sharp or Stabbing Pain
  • Tightness or Pressure in the Chest
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Wheezing

Diagnosis of Upper Back Pain When Breathing

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To diagnose the cause of upper back pain when breathing, a healthcare provider from a reputable urgent care clinic in Westhardfor, CT, may conduct a physical examination and ask about medical history. Diagnostic tests such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and EKGs may also be ordered. These tests can help determine if a pulmonary, musculoskeletal, or cardiac issue causes the pain,

For a more detailed and informed diagnosis, schedule a consultation with a trusted urgent care provider in West Hartford, CT, immediately.

Preventing Upper Back Pain When Breathing

By incorporating these preventive measures into daily routines, individuals can reduce the risk of developing further complications from this condition. However, for those with pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, note that it is still essential to consult with an urgent care healthcare provider for advice and best practices.

  1. Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help strengthen the muscles in the back and improve posture. This can reduce the risk of injury and strain on the back muscles. However, consulting with a West Hartford, CT, urgent care healthcare provider before starting a new exercise regimen is essential.
  2. Maintain proper posture: Proper posture can help reduce strain on the back and prevent injury. To maintain proper posture, sitting up straight and avoiding slouching is essential. Using ergonomic furniture, such as a chair that provides good back support, may also be helpful.
  3. Avoid lifting heavy objects: Lifting heavy objects can strain the back muscles and increase the risk of injury. It is important to lift with the legs and not the back and to avoid lifting objects that are too heavy.
  4. Quit smoking: Smoking can hurt lung function and increase the risk of pulmonary issues. On the other hand, quitting smoking can improve lung function and reduce the risk of upper back pain when breathing.
  5. Manage stress: Stress can cause tension in the back muscles, increasing the risk of injury and strain. Managing stress through relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, is essential.

Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity can put extra strain on the back muscles, increasing the risk of injury and strain. Maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise can reduce this risk.


Upper back pain when breathing can be caused by various underlying conditions, from pulmonary issues to musculoskeletal injuries. It is vital to seek urgent care in West Hartford, CT, if you experience any of the sudden pain mentioned above.

The DOCS Urgent Care – West Hartford team can help diagnose the cause of your upper back pain when breathing and provide you with effective treatment. We are a reputable urgent care clinic in West Hartford, CT, with experienced healthcare providers who can conduct a thorough physical examination and take a detailed medical history to help determine the cause of your upper back pain.

Contact DOCS Urgent Care – West Hartford today to schedule an urgent care appointment. With our urgent care services, we will work together to resolve your medical issue quickly and effectively!


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