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Chest and back pain: causes and symptoms

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

Have you ever felt pain in your chest and back at the same time and you don’t know what it is? This is more common than you think and these pains can indicate the presence of an alteration in your body.

A pain in the chest or upper back can indicate a disorder of the esophagus, the beginning of heart disease, muscle or bone problems, among others. The appearance of these pains in both areas can create confusion as to whether it is a gastric or cardiovascular ailment.

Next, in this FastlyHealarticle, you will have all the information about chest and back pain , what are its causes, symptoms and how to treat it .

What Causes Chest and Back Pain: Causes

The presence of chest and back pain at the same time is due to different causes that give rise to the accompanying symptoms, among them, the following can be mentioned:

Heart-related causes

  • Heart attack: crushing chest pain radiating to the back is characteristic of heart attack. In addition to this symptom, you may experience fatigue, a choking sensation, a cold sweat, pain, or a burning stomach.
  • Angina pectoris : it is a pain that is produced by a decrease in blood flow to the heart as a result of coronary artery disease. This pain is compressive, patients refer to it as a heaviness in the chest that generates pain and radiates to the back. Often, this pain appears when the heart works harder, it can manifest itself when doing exercise or physical effort, such as walking up the stairs.
  • Pericarditis : it is the inflammation of a membrane that surrounds the heart, which fulfills the function of protecting it and keeping it in position. This membrane is very thin, so it allows its mobilization in addition to the expansion of the heart with each beat. The inflammation of this membrane generates pain in the chest, which can transfer to the back, upper limbs and jaw. This inflammatory process can be generated by bacterial or viral infection, lung or breast cancer, immune-type diseases such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or heart problems, such as a heart attack.

Lung diseases

  • Pulmonary embolism : this alteration occurs after the release of a clot, which travels through the bloodstream causing a blockage of a pulmonary artery. This generates a series of symptoms that characterize this pathology, such as: chest pain that spreads to the back, shortness of breath, feeling of suffocation, loss of consciousness, cough, increased respiratory rate and palpitations.
  • Pleurisy : this pathology consists of an inflammation of the pleura, a thin layer that covers the lungs and the chest wall. The moment this layer becomes inflamed, it can rub against each other and cause chest pain, radiating to the shoulder and back, which is aggravated by breathing.

Causes related to the esophagus

  • Gastroesophageal reflux : it is produced by the passage of gastric acid into the esophagus, which can cause burning or tightness behind the breastbone. It can be mistaken for a heart problem. This alteration generates chest and back pain, which must be reviewed by the specialist doctor, in this case, the gastroenterologist.
  • Esophageal spasms and disorders of the esophageal muscles: they generate intense pressure in the chest and back area. Symptoms such as pain, heartburn, vomiting, heartburn after meals or difficulty swallowing, are some of those that can clarify the origin of chest and back pain.

Bone and muscle causes

Muscle tension is one of the most frequent causes of pain in the chest and back, at the same time this may be due to:

  • Costochondritis : it is the pain generated by the inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs with the sternum. The latter is the bone that is in the central part of the chest. The ailment in question can be mistaken for heart disease, however, it causes chest and back pain.
  • Poor posture : This can happen when leaning forward, when standing for a long time, or when sleeping on a faulty mattress.
  • Trauma : that generates the separation of the acromioclavicular joint. This can occur when falling directly on the shoulder or suffering a blow to the tip of the shoulder blade. Another cause would be the fall on the outstretched arm, in addition to the practice of some sports such as soccer or hockey.
  • Injuries to the ribs : Among the injuries to the ribs, the most frequent is the fracture of the ribs . It is caused by the rupture or fissure of one of the bones of the rib cage caused by a fall, a strong impact during an exercise, a trauma to the chest or a car accident. The fracture of any of the ribs produces severe pain that radiates to the back and worsens with mobilization, when breathing or pressing the area where the injury occurred.
  • Rotator cuff tear : This type of injury occurs frequently in people who perform repetitive movements, either at work or during sports. An example of this would be painters, carpenters, people who play tennis, baseball, etc. The pain occurs in the shoulder region, between chest and back.
  • Degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine and thoracic spine : they can cause pain in the chest and back, in the same way, the intensity of the pain depends on the degree of involvement of the spinal disc. The characteristic of this alteration is the chronic pain that is increasing in one or both arms that radiates to the chest and back. Other symptoms are tingling and even numbness.

Other causes of chest and back pain

  • Panic attack : people who suffer from intense fear, accompanied by palpitations, rapid breathing, profuse sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness and fear of death, have symptoms of a panic attack. These signs are usually accompanied by chest pain that radiates to other parts of the body such as the back.
  • Herpes zoster : popularly known as shingles, it is a lesion that occurs in the form of a rash, rash or blisters on the skin by a virus called varicella-zoster, the same virus that causes chickenpox. After the person has suffered from chickenpox, this virus can remain in the body without causing any alteration but, over time, it can reappear in the form of these skin lesions that can cover part of the chest and back , either from the left or the right side, even reaching up to the face. Likewise, it is characterized by a sharp, stabbing pain in the area of ​​the body where the lesions appear.

Symptoms of chest and back pain

The symptoms with which chest and back pain manifests will vary depending on the cause that originates them.

Some of the symptoms that can occur if it is due to heart problems or diseases are:

  • Crushing pain in the chest that radiates to the back, neck, jaw, arms and shoulders.
  • Discomfort that can increase with physical activity, these appear and disappear intermittently.
  • Cold sweating
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Weakness accompanied by dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting

Other symptoms may be related to gastric disorders or other problems :

  • Difficulty to swallow.
  • Sour taste in the mouth.
  • Sensation of food being returned to the mouth.
  • Discomfort that increases when you breathe or cough.
  • Tenderness in the chest when touched.
  • Stabbing muscle pain
  • Pain in the back that radiates to the lower limbs.
  • Discomfort in the back, which is worse when performing movements such as getting up, walking or standing.

Chest and back pain at the same height

Chest and back pain at the same height, such as the one that occurs between the shoulder blades, specifically in the upper back and chest, can have many causes, ranging from a muscle strain, which is the cause more common, even an organic problem.

However, the main cause of chest and back pain at the same height is stress, anxiety and being subjected to depressive symptoms . These alterations contribute to the appearance of anxiety, nervousness, tightness and pain in both the upper back and the chest.

These discomforts can be controlled as the necessary treatment to manage stress and anxiety is carried out.

Chest and back pain: treatment

Treatment of chest and back pain depends on what is causing the symptoms. The specialist doctor will indicate the therapy to be followed in each case according to the symptoms that the patient presents.

Medications indicated in case of chest and back pain can be:

  • Aspirin : in cases where the pain is suspected to be due to heart causes.
  • Arterial relaxants such as nitroglycerin, used to relax the arteries of the heart
  • Anticoagulants : in those cases in which the presence of a clot in an artery is detected, these drugs prevent the formation of new clots.
  • Thrombolytics : if it is a heart attack, the indication will be to dissolve the clot using these drugs.
  • Antacids : When chest pain is caused by stomach acid, these drugs are the first choice.
  • Antidepressants : they will be indicated when in the presence of panic attacks, in this way, symptoms will be controlled, especially chest and back pain.
  • In cases where bone or muscle problems are involved, the indications will be analgesics or muscle relaxants indicated in their different oral, intramuscular or topical presentations.

Depending on the cause, a surgical procedure such as:

  • Angioplasty and stenting : for chest pain due to arterial obstruction.
  • Bypass surgery : This procedure creates an alternate path for blood to bypass the blocked artery.
  • Repair of an aortic dissection : it is an emergency procedure, since the patient’s life is at risk due to a ruptured aortic artery.
  • Pulmonary distension : this is done in cases where a collapsed lung is present, the doctor is in charge of placing a tube in the chest to achieve distention of the lung.

The presence of chest and back pain is a sign that deserves medical attention to know the exact cause and initiate the appropriate treatment.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to Chest and back pain: causes and symptoms , we recommend that you enter our Lung and respiratory tract category .

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