Dorsalgia and respiratory discomfort: What link? (explanation)


The occurrence of respiratory discomfort during back pain is a plausible situation that can give rise to serious concern and many questions. But then what is the link between back pain and respiratory discomfort? And when should you worry? We tell you everything.

Dorsal spine anatomy

Le dorsal spine or thoracic spine is a part of the spine little mobile, composed of 12 vertebrae (from T1 to T12) and located between the cervical spine and Lumbar spine. This part of the spine has the particularity of forming, with the ribs which also articulate with the sternum, the rib cage which houses and protects the heart and lungs.

Respiratory function: how does it work?

Provided by the respiratory system, its purpose is to supply the body's tissues with oxygen while eliminating carbon dioxide CO2. It is done in two steps which are:

  • Ventilation: it refers to the movements of inspiration and expiration which are ensured by the respiratory pump formed by the rib cage, the dorsal spine, the respiratory muscles (diaphragm and accessory muscles) and the lungs.
  • Gas exchanges: they take place at the level of the alveoli (small bags forming the functional unit of the lungs) and have the role of exchanging O2 and CO2 gases between the air and the blood.

Link between back pain and difficulty breathing (causes)

The back pain can have multiple origins, it can indeed be pain emanating directly from bone, muscle, ligament or disc structures located at the level of the back as they can be the projection of pain from the viscera located at the level of the thorax or of the abdomen. Thus, among the causes of back pain, we can find:

  • Spinal bone damage: Peuvent être of degenerative origin like theOsteoarthritis and spinal canal stenosis, they may also be due to inflammatory phenomena occasioning arthritis, articular rheumatism et spondyloarthropathies (ankylosing spondylitis). The infectious origin can also cause back pain, this is particularly the case during infectious spondylodiscitis, and tumor damage. Finally, the vertebrae are sometimes the seat of broken bones caused by trauma or occurring spontaneously due toosteoporosis.
  • The achievement of intervertebral discs : it may be a deformation reducing the size of the disc in certain places and bringing two adjacent vertebrae into contact causing them to rub (osteoarthritis) or else total degeneration causing herniated disc ou vertebral compaction.
  • Muscle and ligament damage: whether it is strains, of contractions, of tensions or a more serious pathology such as fibromyalgia. Soft tissues are also often a source of back pain.
  • Static disorders of the spine : it can be a kyphosis, by hyper-lordosis These disorders may be due to postural defects that have become chronic or to idiopathic (unrecognized) causes.
  • Cardiovascular illnesses : let it be a coronary insufficiency which can give angina pectoris or even cause myocardial infarction, myocarditis, a pericarditis or, an aneurysm located in the thoracic aorta. Many cardiovascular pathologies cause pain that projects into the back.
  • Pulmonary and pleural pathologies: it can be a lung cancer ou pulmonary, effusion of air or fluid in the pleura or of a mass sitting at the level of the mediastinum.
  • Digestive disorders and diseases: they can be gastric (peptic ulcer, gastritis, gastric cancer), esophageal (esophagitis, esophageal cancer), hepatobiliary (hepatic colic, hepatic cancer) or pancreatic (pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer).      
  • Finally, other situations such as pregnancy, obesity, movement performed in poor posture, or prolonged sitting or standing can cause back pain.

Now that we have talked about the different causes of back pain, let's talk about the link that may exist between the latter and difficulty breathing. The reason for which it is difficult to breathe during back pain consists of a blockage located at the muscular, costal, vertebral and articular level reducing the respiratory movements of the rib cage. Indeed, the pain felt prevents the chest from expanding properly and therefore the lungs are no longer able to fill fully and properly.

On the other hand, respiratory movements, in particular deep inspirations and expirations, tend to increase the painful sensation, consequently the person suffering from back pain tends to reflexively limit their respiratory amplitudes in order to reduce the pain as much as possible.

Back pain and respiratory discomfort: when should you worry?

Breathing difficulty in back pain is usually only seen during the acute phase of the underlying cause. Nevertheless, as we have seen previously, said cause may turn out to be a serious cardiovascular, pleuro-pulmonary, digestive or tumoral pathology.

In these cases, a consultation with your doctor must be done without delay in order to eliminate a real emergency involving the vital prognosis and to be taken care of in the first hours; and identify non-acute, but still important, causes that require treatment so that they do not worsen.

Back pain and respiratory discomfort: what management?

You would have understood it ! A chest pain accompanied by respiratory discomfort is frequently the consequence of some pathology. Thus, management first and foremost involves the identification of this pathology and then its treatment.

It is therefore obvious that the first thing to do when you feel back pain associated with respiratory discomfort is to consult a doctor.

Once the emergency has been eliminated, the underlying cause requiring medical or surgical treatment will be taken care of and only other causes such as osteoarthritis, static disorders or poor postures will remain, it will be possible to consider alternative treatments such as:

  • Respiratory physiotherapy: whether through diaphragmatic breathing or through the practice of exercises helping to expand the chest, respiratory physio helps to reduce stress, improve breathing and stabilize the spine.
  • The stretches: they can be practiced in the morning when waking up as well as in the evening before going to bed, stretching allows you to work on breathing while relaxing the muscles. Just stand up straight with your legs slightly apart, raise your forearms and stretch them forward while taking a very deep breath, then blow out while leaning with your arms outstretched to get closer to the ground little by little. The exercise should be repeated three times.
  • Physiotherapy and osteopathy: these are two methods that have proven themselves in the relief of localized pain in the back, whether by manual manipulation alone during osteopathy sessions or exercises, massages and physiotherapy techniques performed speak physiotherapist, these practices will relax and relax the muscles, strengthen them and work the joints in order to relieve pain effectively and durably. The combination of the two can be very effective in order to obtain better results.

Finally, we must not forget and underestimate the importance of a healthy lifestyle in the management of back pain of all kinds. Thus, the regular practice of an adapted physical activity is strongly recommended in order to strengthen his back and his abdomen, it will also help to work the respiratory muscles (diaphragm and accessory muscles).

We must also think about protecting ourselves from any stressful situation or at least learning how to manage stress.

Finally, make sure you always have good posture for working, exercising, performing everyday tasks or lifting a heavy load.


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