Can Back Pain Cause Chest Pain?

Mar 7, 2022

Can-Back-Pain-Cause-Chest-PainIf you experience back pain and chest pain at the same time, then you might be quite alarmed! However, upper back and chest pain together can occur for a number of reasons. Symptoms can differ depending on what is causing your discomfort. Talk to your doctor if you noticed back pain first before the chest pain. Whether you have mild back and chest pain or start to notice a sharp, stabbing pain, you will want to keep track of your symptoms to share with your doctor. Marietta chiropractors at AICA Orthopedics can perform a physical examination to determine why you have pain from your back to chest.

Experiencing Upper Back and Chest Pain

Your upper back is supported by the thoracic spine that runs from the base of your neck to your lower back. Your ribs also protect your chest cavity and vital organs from injury. Because your spine, ribs, and organs like the heart are so close to one another, pain in one area can cause discomfort in other areas. Here is what it might feel like to have chest and upper back pain at the same time.

Dull, Aching Pain

You might experience a dull, aching pain that occurs on one or both sides of your back and chest. A dull pain can start to bother you if it does not seem to go away. Feeling sore or achy can also make the discomfort worse. Dull, aching pain can linger throughout your day, regardless of movement.

Burning, Sharp Pain

You could also experience a burning, sharp pain along your upper back, along your ribs, and across your chest. A sharp pain can come on suddenly and feel like a burning or stabbing sensation. Burning, sharp pain may get worse with certain movements or body positions.

Muscle Tightness

Tight muscles in your upper back can make pain and discomfort worse. Muscle tightness or stiffness can also extend into the shoulders impact your arm movements as well. Stiff muscles can make regular movements seem more difficult, like putting on clothes or picking up a child.

Pain While Breathing

Another symptom of upper back and chest pain includes pain while breathing. You might notice an increase in pain and discomfort when you breathe in to take a breath. As your lungs expand while you breathe in, it can aggravate your pain and make it worse.

Tingling & Numbness

In addition to pain and discomfort, you might also start to notice tingling and numbness. Sometimes known as a pins-and-needles sensation, this combination of tingling and numbness can be uncomfortable and extend into your shoulder and arms.

Progressive Pain

It is possible for back pain to occur by itself at first before causing chest pain. Your back and chest pain can also be progressive, which means it gets worse over time. Progressive pain might start out as a dull, aching pain and turn into a sharp, burning sensation with certain movements.

Spreading Pain

Back and chest pain can also spread into other parts of the body. Spreading pain can extend into your neck, causing soreness, stiffness, tingling, and numbness. Back and chest pain can also spread to your shoulder and arm.

What Causes Upper Back and Chest Pain?

Because the chest and upper back are so close to one another in the body, an issue affecting the upper back could impact the chest and vice versa. Some causes of upper back and chest pain are not emergencies, while others will require more immediate medical attention. Here are a few examples of what causes upper back and chest pain.


When soft tissues become inflamed, they can cause a sharp or stabbing pain that may get worse while you try to take deep breaths or swallow. Inflammation can also aggravate nearby nerves, which can cause the pain to spread. Nerves send signals out to other parts of the body, so when a nerve becomes inflamed, it can send erroneous messages and pain signals. Inflammation in your muscles can cause tightness and spasms. When your muscles spasm, it can cause pain and discomfort. When muscles that support your upper back and chest are aggravated and inflamed, it can cause pain and discomfort in those areas that may get worse with certain movements.

Muscle Strain

Strained muscles in your upper back can also cause symptoms in your upper back, shoulders, and around to your chest. If you exercised really hard or overexerted yourself while lifting and twisting your upper body, then you might strain those muscles. Repetitive movements with activities or exercises such as rowing can also cause muscle strain. Strained upper back muscles can make certain movements in your everyday life more uncomfortable until the muscles heal. Twisting or turning from side to side can be uncomfortable or even painful along your upper back and chest while those muscles are stiff and tired. Those who don’t follow how to deadlift properly can also cause pain.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve can occur in the upper back and cause pain in other areas of the body. The spinal column protects the central nervous system, and any injury or issue to the spine can aggravate nearby nerves. When a nerve becomes compressed or pinched, it can lead to a pins and needles sensation. Painful tingling and temporary numbness can occur with a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve can also cause pain to radiate into the chest and even cause muscle spasms. Discomfort from a pinched nerve can restrict movement to help you avoid the pain getting worse.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and can affect many different parts of the body. When the flexible tissues inside your joints, known as cartilage, start to wear down, this can cause significant pain and discomfort. If you have osteoarthritis in your spine, then it can cause your vertebrae to rub against one another, causing bone-on-bone pain. Osteoarthritis in your upper back can cause tenderness, tingling, numbness, and even nearby muscle weakness. General wear and tear on the body as you age is one of the most common reasons why people develop osteoarthritis.

Digestive Issues

Heartburn is a type of digestive issue that can end up causing pain in your chest that radiates into other parts of the body. Heartburn is most common after eating a meal and can cause stomach acid or the contents of your stomach to come back up into your esophagus. Heartburn pain can get worse when you are lying down, leaning forward, or bending over. The gallbladder stores digestive fluids that can harden and turn into gallstones. Along with pain in your abdomen, gallstones can cause extreme discomfort below your breastbone, below your shoulder blades, and in your right shoulder.

Heart Attack

When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can lead to a heart attack. While heart attack symptoms vary slightly in men and women, both can experience chest pain along with pain in other areas like the upper back. A heart attack can cause chest pain to spread into your neck, along your shoulders, and into your back. It can also cause a feeling of pressure or tightness in your chest, along with shortness of breath. A heart attack can also cause you to feel faint or lightheaded, nauseous, and cold sweats. Women are more likely to experience back pain and jaw pain with a heart attack. If you suspect you are having a heart attack, you should call 911 or seek medical attention immediately.

Heart Conditions

In addition to a heart attack, other heart conditions can cause upper back and chest pain. When your heart is not getting enough blood, it can cause a pain known as angina. Other symptoms with angina include weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, sweating, and nausea. When the tissue that lines the heart becomes inflamed, it can cause pericarditis, which causes a sudden, sharp chest pain. Pericarditis can cause pain and discomfort in your chest and upper back and left side of the body, and it may get worse with lying down or breathing deeply.

Lung Conditions

When inflammation in the lungs occurs, it can cause membranes to rub against one another and lead to pain. This type of lung condition is known as pleurisy. Pain with pleurisy can get worse when you try to take a deep breath or cough. It can also cause pain to your shoulders and back. Upper back and chest pain are also symptoms of lung cancer. When a tumor in the lungs puts pressure on the spine, it can make everyday movements like breathing, laughing, or coughing incredibly painful.

Diagnosing Upper Back and Chest Pain

If you go to the doctor for upper back and chest pain, the first thing your doctor will want to do is find out what is causing your pain. If you have sudden chest pain along with other symptoms of a heart attack or emergency condition, then you may need to go to the emergency room. Otherwise, your doctor will want to know about what other symptoms you have been experiencing. It also helps to talk to your doctor about when the pain first started and whether or not it has gotten worse over time. Also let your doctor know if certain movements or activities have made your pain worse.

Any recent injuries or changes in your lifestyle and habits can also help your doctor determine the most appropriate diagnosis for your upper back and chest pain. A family medical history will also help your doctor determine if you are at higher risk for certain genetic or hereditary conditions that might cause upper back and chest pain. Your doctor may also want to run diagnostic imaging tests on your upper back and chest to get a better look at what is going on. A CT scan or MRI can provide your doctor with a detailed look at what is going on in your back and chest. Both CT scans and MRIs show bones, joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and organs inside your body.

Treating Upper Back and Chest Pain

There are several different types of treatment depending on what is causing your upper back and chest pain.

Emergency Treatment

If you suspect you are having a heart attack or dealing with another type of serious injury, then you will need emergency treatment. Whether you are dealing with a heart attack or car accident injuries, emergency medical treatment will get you stabilized. Once you have met with a doctor in an emergency situation, you may need to see another doctor for continued or follow-up care.

At-Home Remedies

For mild upper back and chest pain, you may try some remedies at home to help alleviate the pain and discomfort. If you pulled a muscle working out too hard or while lifting something too heavy, you might need to rest for a few days, so the pain goes away. You might also try over-the-counter medications to help with any pain or inflammation.

Chiropractic Care

Your chiropractor can help identify any misalignments in your spine that are causing pain in your back and other areas of the body. A chiropractor can help relieve pressure on a pinched nerve or help soothe stiff, aching muscles. Chiropractors use gentle and safe hands-on approaches to treatment that resolve your pain and discomfort naturally.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy incorporates stretches and exercises to help you manage pain, regain muscle strength, improve your flexibility, and increase your range of motion. A physical therapist can help you recover after an injury or heart attack. You can also see a physical therapist to learn more about how stretching and exercising can improve your athleticism, stamina, and everyday movements.

Visit AICA Orthopedics in Marietta to find out how our team of multi-disciplinary doctors can help you experience lasting pain relief. At AICA Orthopedics, we have orthopedic doctors, surgeons, chiropractors, and physical therapists who can help you recover from an injury or manage a health condition. We offer individualized treatment plans that address your specific symptoms and needs so you can get the best results.


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