Back pain due to coughing is very common for adults. Usually, this is related to chronic coughing for people who have a pulmonary or cardiac condition like COPD, asthma or heart failure.
But on the other hand, some back pain from coughing can be due to a sudden issue like a bad cold or flu.
Regardless of the source, back pain from coughing can be irritating and cause a person to have a change in their day to day life.
Lower Back Pain When Coughing
It is very common that low back pain from coughing is related to chronic conditions. Maybe someone has extensive COPD that causes them to cough all throughout the day or maybe they have heart failure that causes them to cough all night when they attempt to lay in bed.
These issues will continue to cause issues and can cause serious back pain.
The cause of the pain could be a number of different things:
#1. Muscle Spasm
A muscle spasm is very similar to a cramp. The duration is variable but can be seconds to minutes long. The muscle might twitch or become very tight due to the spasm. Movement might help decrease the spasm, but often, people have to wait for the muscle to naturally relax.
With coughing, the increased pressure in the abdomen during a cough can cause the muscles to contract and then they are unable to relax due to the spasm.
#2. Muscle Strain or Sprain
A strain affects tendons because they connect a muscle to a bone. A sprain affects the ligaments because they connect bone to bone.
The specifics here are not as important as knowing that a hard, chronic cough can cause pulling of the soft tissue structures of the back and cause pain. Over time, this can be chronic and very painful.
#3. Herniated Disk
Intervertebral disks are soft cushions between each vertebra in a human’s spine that allow the spine to work properly. If you would like to read more about how herniated disks can cause back pain, please reference.
In the event that chronic coughing causes low back pain, this would be very painful. The herniated disks can irritate the nerves in the spine and cause a great deal of pain. The disks can herniate due to the high pressure within the abdominal cavity when coughing.
Upper Back Pain When Coughing
As with lower back pain, upper back pain can be caused by chronic coughing for various reasons. Some of those reasons were outlined above and still have the same rationale in the upper spine.
1. Muscle Spasm
2. Strain or Sprain
3. Herniated Disk
There are also specific reasons why chronic coughing can cause pain in the upper back.
#4. Lung pain due to infection or disease
Lung pain is caused by chronic coughing due to changes in the lining of your lungs. This can be related to various pulmonary disease processes like emphysema or asthma or infections like pleurisy.
This pain is certainly serious and something that should be addressed with your medical doctor and should not be taken lightly.
#5. Broken Ribs
Although rare, it is possible for someone to cough so hard that they can break their own ribs with the pressure exerted by the cough. Again, this is very serious and should be addressed by your medical doctor.
Tips to Treat Back Pain from Coughing
As noted above, any back pain from coughing related to a medical condition needs to be addressed by a medical doctor. You should not try to treat this at home on your own.
However, if your back pain from coughing is from a spasm, strain or sprain; there are many ways that you can treat that pain at home.
#1 - Medications
These might be things like Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc. You should take them as directed on the label and reach out to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
#2 - Muscle Pain Topicals
There are many different formulas on the market, but overall, the idea is muscle relaxation due to non-invasive medications in a cream or rub.
#3 - Heating Pad
Gentle heat might feel great on a muscle spasm or strain/sprain. Up to 30 minutes at a time, a few times a day might make a big difference. Also, a warm shower or bath could help as well.
#4 - Ice Pack
Some might like ice as well to ease the pain. Be sure to use a barrier between the ice pack and your skin. Limit the time to less than 20 minutes a few times per day.
#5 - Movement
One of the best ways to diminish back pain is to keep moving. Gentle exercise like walking or stretching is a great way to decrease the pain in your back due to coughing.
Tips to Prevent Back Pain from Coughing
While back pain due to coughing can be painful and impact a person’s day to day life, there are some tips and tricks to prevent it from happening or getting worse.
1. Support yourself as you cough.
Put your hands down on a surface like a table or chair to prevent the pressure from building up and hurting your back. You could even put your hands on your knees when you’re sitting to prevent this as well.
2. Keep good posture.
As you cough, try not to hunch over. Instead, keep an upright spine and lower your shoulders. This will help prevent back pain from coughing.
When to see a Doctor
It is best to see a doctor for your back pain when it does not subside with conservative measures like heat or exercise or when it continues to get worse. This might indicate infection, disease or bigger issues that need to be addressed by your doctor.