There is nothing unusual about people experiencing back and chest pain. Often, these two are symptoms of a common disorder or injury. And other times, back and chest pain can be both symptoms of each other. So given this common dual combination, can back pain cause chest pain?
There are certain injuries and degenerative conditions involving the middle and upper back that can actually trigger chest pain. A common cause of chest pain coming from back pain is a back muscle injury that brings about sympathetic chest pain. Muscle strains that are severe may actually affect muscle groups in the neighboring area. For example, muscle pain located in the back or shoulder may set off a heavy and painful feel in the upper chest area. Another one of the most common back and chest pain conditions is nerve impingement.
To understand nerve impingement, remember that the chest area has muscles, bones, cartilage, tendons, and thoracic nerves that branch off from the spinal cord; the spinal cord is located along the spinal canal found within the spine or backbone. When one of these nerves that exit the spine becomes blocked or pinched, pain is actuated. Now, if the compressed nerve is a sensory nerve, pain in the back is set off along with the area the nerve is assigned to, in this case the chest area. If automatic nerves are compressed, a reduction in nerve signaling takes place, affecting any organ served by that specific automatic nerve.
Pain is also triggered when these nerves are compressed by muscle spasm, spinal stenosis, bone spur formation or herniated disc. Muscle spasm is the violent and uncontrollable contractions of muscles that often influence another set of contractions with every movement of the body. When this occurs, it is best to just try and relax in a comfortable position until the pain goes away. Ice treatment is also very helpful: just apply ice, on the affected area, for around 10 to 20 minutes and for every 1 to 2 hours.
Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal that normally happens as a person ages. It is another condition that influences nerve compression which triggers back pain and eventually, chest pain. In this case, the spine is degenerating, causing a debris build-up around the canal. So as the debris builds up, the space allotted for the spinal cord becomes limited. And with nerves being very sensitive to compression and impingement, they require enough space to be able to function properly. If the nerves are not able to do so, painful symptoms such as intense back pain occurs.
Bone spur, a growth in the spinal joints that occurs because of aging, are actually caused by a degenerative osteoarthritis. Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are a cause of facet joint syndrome – friction between bones due to a loss of cartilage and synovial fluid. Similar with muscle spasms and spinal stenosis, bone spur formations cause back pain that could trigger chest pain.
One of the most common spinal abnormalities is a herniated disc. Herniated discs occur when the outer layer of the disc (annulus fibrosus) becomes misshaped due to an internal pressure from its jelly center (nucleus pulposus). There are cases when the structure of the disc becomes completely damaged and this affects (pinches) the spinal nerves and cord at the back. The result is an intense back pain that may also affect the chest area.
Having unexplained back and chest pain requires attention and treatment. Any pain experienced in the chest or back is most probably an indicator of a much bigger concern. The pain could be a symptom of pulmonary embolism, cancer, pneumonia, unstable angina, and could also indicate a heart attack. When back and chest pain are experienced, it is best to see a doctor immediately and have a thorough check-up in order to attain proper treatment for what’s causing the pain.