Lower Back Pain When Breathing

Lower back pain when breathing is a type of pain that can actually be cause for serious concern. While many types of back pain in elderly indicate an issue with your spine or a surrounding muscle, if it is only when you breathe, it could be an issue with organs, disease, or something more serious.

We’ll cover some of the most common causes of lower back pain when breathing. Then, we’ll give you some warning signs to look for to tell when it is time for you to start considering a trip to the doctor or emergency room.

What Are Some Of The Lower Causes Of Lower Back Pain When Breathing?

You may be asking, why does my lower back hurt when I breathe in? Well, part of the problem is actually diagnosing the issue, as the symptoms can be attributed to so many different conditions.

A few of these are related to your spine, and are non-life threatening, such as scoliosis or kyphosis. However, a few of these conditions are incredibly serious and require immediate attention, such as heart attacks, pneumonia, lung cancer, etc.

There are specific organs that can be associated with lower back pain when breathing, with the most common being the lungs.

We’ll help you distinguish between these conditions, but unfortunately, only a trip to the doctor will undoubtedly reveal what condition you are suffering from.


Scoliosis is a condition in which there is a sideways curvature of the spine. Typically, this isn’t a condition that affects you past your 20’s. It’s more prominent in teens, during rapid growth spurts.

In some instances, scoliosis can become so severe that pressure starts getting applied to your lungs, which can cause serious pain while breathing.

A physical examination will easily tell you whether or not you have scoliosis, but some other symptoms to watch for are:

  • Back pain
  • Weakness, numbness, and tingling in the hands and feet
  • Imbalances in your shoulders, hips, ribcage
  • Difficulty sitting or standing up straight
  • Shortness of breath


Kyphosis is another condition that can cause back pain while breathing. It is similar to scoliosis in that it involves the curvature of the spine, but here, the spine curves forward.

Kyphosis also tends to develop during puberty or adolescence, and can easily be treated through physical therapy, back braces, and in some severe cases, surgery. Some other symptoms include severe swelling and balance issues.


Pneumonia is an infection where fluid fills up the tiny air sacs in the lungs. Oftentimes, people will develop pneumonia after dealing with a cold or the flu, and symptoms vary widely. But, it is rather easily distinguishable through the chest, abdominal, and back pain with each breathe.

Antibiotics are typically all that is needed to cure this condition. However, if not treated quickly, hospitalization is needed.

Other symptoms that set pneumonia apart from other causes of back pain are flu like symptoms, such as:

  • Fever and chills
  • Coughing up phlegm or blood
  • Wheezing
  • A loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting

Heart attack

Perhaps one of the most dangerous causes of lower back pain when breathing is a heart attack. This specific condition requires immediate emergency service to save your life.

Some of the symptoms to watch for that can indicate a heart attack are:

  • Pain in your chest along with your lower back when breathing
  • Pressure, fullness, or itchiness in the chest
  • Pain in one or both arms
  • Lightheadedness, disorientation, confusion
  • Shortness of breath

If you suspect you or someone around you is having a heart attack, dial 911 immediately for emergency assistance.


This one is a bit easier to diagnose, as you will likely be aware of your weight issue by the time you experience lower back pain when breathing.

The excess weight you have to carry around will cause back pain in general, but it also causes difficulty breathing.

Luckily, simply seeing your doctor or a health care professional to come up with a weight loss plan will help take the pressure off your back, and allow you to breathe easier.

Lung Cancer

As lung cancer advances, you may experience lower back pain while breathing. This gets worse as the cancer spreads.

To make matters worse, tumor growth can press on the organs in your lower back along with the nerves in the spine, which will cause substantial lower back pain.

Pain in your lower back while breathing likely won’t be the first symptom of lung cancer you experience. By the time you start to experience this symptom, your cancer will have developed substantially.

Pulmonary Embolism

This is a condition where a blood clot in your arteries blocks blood from flowing. Pulmonary embolism can be life threatening, and causes severe pain in the lower back when breathing.

This medical emergency also has symptoms such as:

  • Pain while coughing, sometimes with blood coming up in the cough
  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Dizziness, disorientation, trouble seeing
  • Chest pain


A final condition that causes lower back pain while breathing is pleurisy. It involves inflammation of the pleura. These two, thin membranes protect your chest and lungs, and as they become inflamed, it makes breathing difficult.

As pleurisy developed in your lungs, it causes severe lower back pain with each breath you take. It can be caused by injuries, infections, cancer, and much more.

Other symptoms of pleurisy include coughing and fever, along with lower back pain while breathing. This condition is serious and warrants a hospital visit. Now, let’s talk about how to tell when you should worry about lower back pain while breathing.

When Should I Be Worried About Lower Back Pain When Breathing?

When the lower back pain while breathing becomes severe, persistent, or gets worse with time, you should see a doctor

There are some warning signs that it’s time to be worried and head to the doctor or emergency room.

Severe Warning Signs

  • Extreme shortness of breath
  • If you start coughing up blood, or can’t stop wheezing
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling throughout your body that regulates from your lower back
  • Pain in your arms, particularly your shoulders
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or passing out

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Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

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