Can Asthma Cause Back Pain?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

What it might feel like

Asthma can cause some people to feel pain in the shoulders, neck, and lower back. You might feel sore, achy, or stiff. Your pain might be worse following an asthma attack. When you have back pain related to asthma, you might also experience symptoms such as chest pain, acid reflux, and fatigue.

Why does this happen?

There are a few reasons that someone with asthma might have back pain. One major reason is that your diaphragm and other muscles you use to breathe also help keep your spine stiff. People with asthma who hyperventilate or experience labored breathing can strain these muscles. Another cause is frequent coughing, which can put stress on the muscles in your chest and back, leading to back pain. Additionally, research shows that people with asthma often sit with their neck or shoulders forward during attacks. This can result in stiffness and pain in your neck and shoulders.

Treatments

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You can talk to a medical professional about your asthma and back pain. A treatment plan that both manages your asthma and relieves your back pain can help prevent back pain from returning. A healthcare professional will go over how your asthma is currently being managed and might make some changes. This could include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids. Using inhaled corticosteroids daily can help control your asthma and prevent serious attacks.
  • Long-acting beta-agonists. These medications can be used along with inhaled corticosteroids to reduce swelling and prevent nighttime asthma attacks. Some inhalers combine long-acting beta- agonists and corticosteroids.
  • Biologics. Biologics is a newer way to treat severe asthma that is linked to allergies. They work by reducing the reaction your immune system has to allergy triggers. You’ll receive these medications by injection from a healthcare professional.
  • Rescue medications. Your treatment plan will focus on preventing attacks, but a doctor might also prescribe different medications if an attack does occur. These might include quick-relief inhalers or oral corticosteroids.

A doctor might also recommend pulmonary rehabilitation to help you learn breathing exercises. These exercises and techniques can help you breathe easier and can help strengthen the muscles you use to breathe. This can improve support to your spine and can lead to reduced pain in your back.

Over time, controlling your asthma will help your back pain clear up. However, pain relief isn’t immediate. A healthcare professional will likely suggest or prescribe pain medication to manage the pain in your back while you work on controlling your asthma. Pain control options might include:

  • Over-the counter medications. Your doctor might recommend over-the- counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for mild back pain.
  • Prescription NSAIDs. Stronger prescription NSAIDs can manage moderate or severe back pain.
  • Muscle relaxers. Muscle relaxers can be a good option for pain relief when NSAIDs and acetaminophen haven’t been successful.
  • Antidepressants. Low doses of antidepressants can be used to help reduce daily pain.

When it may not be asthma

Back pain can be connected to asthma. However, asthma isn’t the breathing concern that’s most likely to cause back pain. Several lung conditions lead to back pain more often than asthma. These include:

  • Respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis. An infection such as bronchitis on pneumonia can cause difficulty breathing, severe coughing, fever, and sharp pain in your chest, back, and shoulders. It’s a good idea to seek medical care for these symptoms. Treatment can help heal the infection and relieve your pain.
  • Viruses such as the flu or COVID-19. Viral infections such as the flu or COVID-19 can cause generalized body aches including back pain, along with coughing and shortness of breath. It’s a good idea to get tested if you’ve had these symptoms, especially if there’s a chance you’ve been exposed to COVID-19.
  • Lung cancer. A chronic cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, and back pain are also symptoms of lung cancer. These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have lung cancer, but it’s important to make a medical appointment. Your doctor can run tests and determine the cause of back pain.
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Learn more

It’s a good idea to pay close attention to your symptoms. Sometimes asthma attacks or coughing caused by asthma can feel similar to breathing problems caused by illness. However, if you’ve been experiencing back pain, coughing, and shortness of breath, along with feeling generally run down or achy, the pain is unlikely to be connected to asthma. In these cases, an acute illness could be causing your back pain.

When to seek care

You might not always need to see a doctor for back pain related to your asthma. For example, an asthma attack that leads to mild back pain for a day or two might be managed with acetaminophen or an ice pack. It’s a good idea to seek care in the following situations:

  • Your back pain has lasted for more than 2 weeks.
  • Your back pain is interfering with your work or other activities.
  • Your back pain is making it difficult to sleep.
  • Your back pain is severe during asthma attacks.
  • Your back pain is getting worse.
  • You suspect your back pain might be caused by an illness.

Takeaway

Asthma is linked to back pain for some people. Frequent labored breathing, coughing, and hyperventilating can strain the muscles that support your spine and lead to back pain. You can get relief from back pain by controlling your asthma and taking pain medications as prescribed by a doctor. Managing your asthma can eliminate your back pain and prevent it from returning.

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