Upper Back Pain from Your Lungs

When you are having upper back pain and think your lungs are involved there are many possible causes. When you learn more about the possible causes and treatment options you are better equipped to participate in your own care.






"The most common"

There are many possibilities and when you have upper back pain you cannot always tell if your lungs or lung cancer are involved.

The most common cause of upper back pain is upper back muscle pain due to muscle strain, and does not involve your lungs at all.

You may have pain with deep breathing, but this is because the muscles are involved in breathing.

Another cause of back pain is spinal stenosis. This occurs when the bones and ligaments of the spine begin pressing on the nerves. Spinal stenosis treatment may require spinal stenosis surgery to remove the bone and ligaments that are pressing on the nerves.

Two of most common causes of upper back pain that is from your lungs would include pleurisy, and lung cancer.


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When Your Lungs Move Inside of Your Chest

Pleurisy is an inflammation of the lining that covers the lungs.  This lining, called the pleura, has two layers.  One layer covers the lungs and the other layer covers the inside of the chest wall, and between these two layers is a lubricating fluid that allows smooth and easy motion.

Every time you breathe, your lungs move inside of your chest, and normally this movement does not cause pain. But, when the lubricating fluid dries up or the pleura becomes inflamed and sensitive, there can be pain with every breath.

"anything that causes friction or chafing"

There are many possible causes of pleurisy, anything that causes friction or chafing between these layers of tissue, will cause pleuritic chest pain that may be felt in the back.

The most common causes of pleurisy would include bacterial infections like pneumonia or tuberculosis, autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and lung diseases like sarcoidosis and cystic fibrosis.

"lungs are inflamed and sensitive"

Bacterial infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis may cause pleurisy and upper back pain when the lungs are inflamed and sensitive. When the lungs move and the two layers of the pleura rub together it may cause pain that is felt in the upper back.

Bacterial infections such as pneumonia are commonly treated with antibiotics. Other infections such as tuberculosis have become resistant to many treatments and may require several months of treatment with multiple drugs to resolve the infection.

"these combined to form immune complexes"

Autoimmune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can cause an inflammation of the pleura. This can occur when the lupus or other autoimmune activity causes the production of antigens and antibodies. When these combine to form immune complexes it initiates the inflammatory cascade.

This inflammation makes the pleura very sensitive to any motion or friction and there is tremendous sharp pain with every breath. Treatment may begin with over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs, but more severe cases may require prednisone or other strong steroid treatments.

"causing changes in the pleural lubricating fluid"

Diseases of the lungs such as sarcoidosis and cystic fibrosis may cause pleurisy and upper back pain from your lungs because of inflammation of the pleura, or by causing changes in the pleural lubricating fluid.

Treatment options would begin with treating the underlying disease. Treatment of the pleurisy may include anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroids, and narcotic pain medication. 

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"Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor and spread..."

Lung cancers such as mesothelioma lung cancer can cause upper back pain that is from your lungs in several different ways. A tumor may grow large enough that it puts pressure on nerves in the back. This can mimic symptoms of spinal stenosis. Small cell lung cancer may spread and directly infiltrate the bones or other structures of the spine.

Lung cancer may also metastasize and cause back pain when cancer spreads to the bones of the spine. Cancer cells can break away from the original tumor and spread through the blood or lymph and start a new cancer in another part of the body.

"second hand smoke"

The most common cause of lung cancer is cigarette smoking. 80% of lung cancers are thought to be a result of cigarette smoking. Another common cause of lung cancer is second hand smoke, or being in close proximity to someone who is smoking.

Other common causes of mesothelioma lung cancer include asbestos exposure, exposure to radon gas, exposure to cancer causing agents in the workplace, and marijuana smoking.

"25% of people with lung cancer have no symptoms"

The symptoms of lung cancer include a chronic cough, coughing up blood, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Up to 25% of people with lung cancer have no symptoms at all and the cancer is discovered on a chest x-ray.

If you have, or if you think you have, lung cancer causing upper back pain from your lungs you must see your doctor immediately for referral to a qualified oncologist to learn about lung cancer treatment.

"be proactive regarding your care"

When you have upper back pain and think your lungs may be involved it is important to learn all you can so you can be an active participant in the decisions regarding your care. But it is also very important to see your doctor so that he can do a physical exam and order the appropriate tests for a complete evaluation of your symptoms.

When your symptoms involve, upper back pain and your lungs, some of the possibilities are very dangerous and require immediate treatment.

Early diagnosis means early treatment and will give you the best possible outcome.

You can learn more about lung cancer symptoms and treatments at The American Cancer Society.



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