Why Do I Have Upper Back Pain and Chest Pain?

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Pain in any form is an uncomfortable symptom to start your day with or experience before heading to bed. Once it comes on suddenly and in severe levels within the chest or in the upper back, it may signal a severe medical condition that requires immediate treatment like a heart disease or even a heart attack.

So why do you have upper back pain with chest pain? Simultaneous upper back pain and chest pain are caused by a condition in the organs within its regions such as the heart, aorta, and esophagus that may need treatment to avoid them from developing into a debilitating disorder. If it occurs without any trigger and is accompanied by trouble breathing and pain spreading to the entire body, seek medical attention immediately. 

What Causes Chest Pain Associated With Upper Back Pain?

Upper back pain may result from other sources like poor posture in standing, sitting, or sleeping; strains and injuries; improper stretching and exercise; and pressure on the thoracic spine. However, it is partnered with chest pain, the upper back pain can be overuse of the body, pinched nerve, or an additional symptom to an underlying medical condition in vital organs. 

If you have spent the day in intense physical activity without any stretching or rest, chest pain spreading to upper back pain and vice versa may result from muscle strain. When one muscle is stiff or overworked, the muscles may follow suit in order to make up for the burned-out or inflamed muscle. This may happen with bad posture when lifting heavy objects frequently or improper stretching that adds unnecessary stress to the thoracic spine and the chest wall.

Another source of chest pain with upper back pain is damage to the nerve roots in the spine or a pinched nerve. If the nerve in the spine is injured or constricted, it may result in damage in the upper back spreading to the chest. This is due to degrading bones in the chest wall or in the spine. 

Medical conditions that cause chest pain with upper back pain come from a substantial change in blood flow, blood pressure, and digestion as the organs that assist in regulating these bodily functions are found in the chest. The level and type of pain, its specific cause or trigger, and its exact location are all identifiers of the specific condition that causes upper back and chest pain.

Possible Conditions Related to Chest Pain and Upper Back Pain

Listed below are known conditions that have upper back pain and chest pain as their related symptoms. Each of them has its own effective treatments to fully alleviate the chronic pain it generates. Consult a doctor or a pain specialist to receive a proper diagnosis to provide pain relief and safeguard your body from further conditions.

1) Upper Back Pain with Pain On The Left Side of the Chest 

The heart is located slightly to the left of the chest so its related conditions may require a cardiologist to properly relieve. The most severe and sudden of which is a heart attack—when the blood flow of the body is blocked. Because of the central position of the heart, the pain of a heart attack will begin from the chest or the upper back and spread throughout the body.

Upper back pain on its own is rarely a sign of a heart attack as it is accompanied by other symptoms that signal an unanticipated drop in blood pressure like trouble breathing, nausea, and discomfort or pain in the arms, shoulders, and neck. If you are at risk of a heart attack, upper back pain can be one of its several warnings.

Another cause of chest pain that results in upper back pain in this region of the body is angina. Angina is when one of the tissues in the heart lacks blood and is a symptom of coronary artery disease. The most common type of angina that causes chest pain is stable angina caused by physical exertion or stress. It has similar symptoms of a heart attack like tightness in the chest, pain in the areas around the chest, and sudden unease.

2) Upper Back Pain with Pain On The Right Side of the Chest

The gallbladder is located under the liver, on the right side of the abdomen. It is responsible for creating and storing bile which the body uses for digesting fats. If the fluid and minerals solidify in the gallbladder, it can create gallstones that produce sharp intense pain and quickly grow in the right side of the chest, in between shoulders, or the right shoulder.

Additional symptoms of gallstones are dizziness, vomiting, and jaundice. The chest pain and/or upper back pain may last from 15 minutes to 5 hours. It takes medication to quickly dissolve any gallstones before they turn large enough to require surgery to dispose of them.

3) Upper Back Pain With Chest Pain After Coughing

Since the chest hosts the lungs, any pain from coughing may indicate a condition or damage to the organ. The most immediate condition that causes this pain is a strained or bruised rib. When the muscles are stressed, it may result in difficulty taking a deep breath and may cause pain when coughing. However, painful breathing is a sign of a broken or fractured rib.

An external condition is pleurisy, inflammation in the membrane covering the lungs from a chest infection or other conditions like tuberculosis or lung cancer. The chest pain and upper back pain in pleurisy is triggered by the fluid in the lungs, the pleura, rubbing together while breathing due to enlarging from inflammation and infection. Pleurisy is not contagious and can be healed if it is contracted from a viral infection. 

Chest pain after coughing may also be caused by a potentially fatal blood clot trapped in an artery in the lungs. This is known as a pulmonary embolism. The pain may travel to the upper back because the blood flow is blocked in the chest, similar to a heart attack. If you are coughing blood, noticing your lips or nails are turning blue, and experiencing an accelerated heartbeat, you require emergency treatment to relieve the pulmonary embolism.

Is Upper Back Pain a Sign of a Heart Attack? 

Upper back pain that comes suddenly without warning or trigger can be a sign of a coming heart attack, particularly in women. This is due to a phenomenon known as “referred pain” because the brain is misinterpreting the pain experienced by the heart and may warn the nerves in the upper back instead.

It should be noted that each heart attack is unique to the person and upper back pain may not happen for everyone. The American Heart Associated lists sharp chest pain, muscle tightness in the chest, neck or jaw pain, pain in the shoulders or arms, and shortness of breath as common symptoms of a heart attack. If you suddenly experience severe upper back pain with any of these symptoms, you must seek immediate medical attention.

Risk factors for heart attack include high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, diabetes, and lack of exercise. Although, a heart attack may happen despite any risk. It is important to recognize any coinciding symptoms, subtle or incredibly noticeable, to quickly treat a heart attack.

Why Do I Have Chest and Upper Back Pain at Night? 

If you are experiencing pain in the chest, upper back, and other parts of the body at nighttime, it may be a result of muscle strain, spinal problems, or influenced by underlying conditions like those discussed above. However, if it consistently happens at night after bouts of physical activity, it is most likely due to mechanical issues in the body.

For these issues, seek a physical therapist to teach you proper stretches to do before and after activities to prevent straining and inflammation in the chest muscles. It’s also because of incorrect weight lightning technique if poor posture was used. If the chest pain or upper back pain persists despite home remedies and correct stretching, it may be a symptom to a larger condition, or an incorrect trigger was identified.  

When to See a Doctor for Chest and Upper Back Pain Symptoms 

If you are experiencing heart attack-like symptoms, you may require emergency medical attention as you may have a potentially fatal complication in the heart or the lungs. The most urgent warning signs for these attacks include a struggle breathing, chest pain, and upper back pain that comes out of nowhere and increases in severity, tightness in the chest walls, lightheadedness, and cold sweats.

In other cases, if chest pain and upper back pain symptoms persist for two weeks without improvement or pain relief from physical therapy, medication, and other home remedies, it may be due to a developing medical condition.

Alleviate Upper Back Pain Causes and Symptoms at Gramercy Pain Center

Chest pain is a symptom that requires urgent diagnosis and treatment to ensure that there isn’t any concealed medical condition that will later impact your quality of life. If you are still having chronic upper back pain after treating the source of the chest pain, it may be because of other hidden reasons.

At Gramercy Pain Center, effective pain relief starts with a proper and professional diagnosis. Our expert pain specialists can help you pinpoint the exact causes of your upper back pain and recommend physical therapy or minimally invasive procedures to relieve and prevent any persistent discomfort from happening. Contact us at 732-788-0349 or schedule a consultation online to start building a pain-free life. 

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