Middle Back Pain When Breathing - Do Not Ignore These Common Causes

Middle Back Pain When Breathing - Do Not Ignore These Common Causes

Why do I experience middle back pain when I breathe in?

There can be various reasons why you are low common middle or upper back hurts when breathing in. There can be reasons that would indicate a medical emergency and there can be reasons that can be easily treated at home.

Let's dive a little bit deeper to figure out the range of severity for middle back pain while breathing.

Middle Back Pain When Breathing

Let's discuss less life threatening medical examples that might be the reason for middle back pain while breathing and what you could do about them.

Muscle Strain or Sprain

Muscle strain or sprain would be a very common reason why you could have middle back pain.

This could be related to an injury that happened recently or a chronic issue that has been happening over time. Either way, it can be quite painful and would be even worse when taking a deep breath in.

Treatment for a muscle sprain or strain includes stretches, heat, ice and rest. You could also try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory if you check with your doctor first.


One common cause of middle back pain when breathing would be scoliosis.

Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine and generally affects younger people but can have an onset at any time.


If scoliosis is severe, it can put extra pressure on the lungs, making it hard to breathe which could cause pain. Generally, you would already know if you had scoliosis and that was the cause of your middle back pain, but perhaps, it could be a new diagnosis for you.

Other symptoms of scoliosis would be constant back pain, uneven shoulders or hips and problems walking. If you think you might have scoliosis, you should reach out to your doctor.

Spinal Alignment Issues

The category of spinal alignment issues could encompass many things. This could be issues that have caused a herniated disc, issues that have caused nerve impingement, etcetera.

These are musculoskeletal issues that can be treated conservatively at home initially much like a muscle strain or sprain. If the pain continues or becomes worse, evaluation by a medical provider would be indicated.

Why does my upper back hurt when I breathe?

The mechanics of breathing are rather complex. The rib cage is composed of 12 ribs on each side and the bones of the spine that they are attached to.

Then, there are a large number of muscles, tendons and ligaments that compose our rib cage.

rib cage middle back pain

If any of those structures become inflamed or irritated, that can cause pain. When the rib cage is not moving, those structures are not being put under any pressure and the pain might be minimal.

But when we take a deep breath, those structures are stretched and pulled which can cause pain if they are inflamed or irritated. This could cause someone to want to take more shallow breaths rather than breathing deeply to prevent the pain.

However, this is not a great idea. Prolonged shallow breathing can cause other issues like pneumonia.

Why it is worse when I breathe in deeply?

The deeper you breathe, the more stress and pressure you can put on the structures that would be irritated.

Again, we should not avoid deep breathing as this can lead to a host of other issues but it would be easy to do because of the pain. Read below for some ways to prevent the pain and thus allow you to breathe more deeply.

Common Causes of Middle Back Pain

Heart Attack

Certainly, a heart attack is a life-threatening emergency and it can cause middle back pain that would increase with breathing.

Other signs of a heart attack could be chest pain, pressure on the chest, pain in one or both arms, jaw pain and shortness of breath. Certainly, if you have any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical care

Chest Pain

You could have chest pain that is unrelated to a heart attack. Sometimes it can be a different cardiac disease or could be related to indigestion. If your chest pain is ongoing or worsening, you should definitely reach out to your medical provider.

Pulmonary Embolism

Also known as PE, pulmonary embolism is when a blood clot develops in the vascular structures of the lung. This can change the blood flow and cause pain.

If the block is severe enough, this is a life-threatening emergency. Other symptoms include chest pain, dizziness, racing heartbeat, etc.

If you are having middle back pain and you feel it could be related to a pulmonary embolism, seek medical attention immediately


Being obese puts you at additional risk for middle back pain. The increased weight puts additional stress on muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. This can most definitely cause pain.

Other Respiratory Issues

There are various other respiratory issues that could cause middle back pain including pneumonia, pleurisy and COPD.

Any of those diagnosis would require medical attention to address so if you think those would relate to you, reach out to your medical provider as soon as possible

Non-Surgical Treatments for Middle Back Pain

 Remedy #1 - Rest

One of the best ways to alleviate middle back pain is rest. Although when we say rest, we don't mean lying on the couch for a week.

Gentle activity is still great but try to avoid the reason why you had the pain start in the first place. So, for example, if you are resurfacing your hardwood floors, take a break before you do the next room so that your pain can heal.

Remedy #2 - Ice

  1. Ice is a great way to manage pain. You can buy a fancy ice pack, or you can use a gel ice pack.

gel ice packs

Either way, make sure there is a layer of fabric like this one between your skin and the source of the cold period best practice is 20 minutes of icing every hour to decrease inflammation and decrease pain

Remedy #3 - Heat

heating pad for back pain

Heat is another excellent non-surgical treatment for middle back pain. As with ice, 20 minutes per hour is a great rule of thumb when using a heating pad. Make sure that you either set a timer or use a heating pad that has a built in timer so that you do not risk burning your skin.

Discover the Best Heating Pads for Back Pain Relief

Remedy #4 - Massage

Massage is a wonderful nonsurgical treatment for middle back pain. This can be self-massage with a foam roller or tennis ball. If you cannot reach the spot of pain, you can ask your partner to assist.

It might be more expensive but, seeking out a local masseuse is a great option as well. They are skilled in working on muscle strain and sprain to decrease your pain.

Read Related Article: 

Tennis Ball for Sciatica - 5 Best Massage Exercises for Fast Relief

Remedy #5 - Over-The-Counter Medications

There are various over-the-counter medications that can help with middle back pain. Be sure that you speak to your doctor before taking any new medication including over-the-counter medications.

Remedy #6 - Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a non-invasive and proven effective treatment for middle back pain. Ask your provider to write you a referral for physical therapy.

When should I see a doctor for Middle Back Pain?

 You should see a doctor or medical provider for your middle back pain for any of the life threatening reasons listed at the start of this article.

You should also seek out medical attention for middle back pain that does not improve with conservative treatments that were listed here or worsens over time.                

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