Severe back pain with chest pain
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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If you have a sharp pain in one side of your chest when you take a deep breath, you may have pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining of the lung.
The chest contains many muscles, bones, tendons, and cartilage. Strains or sprains to any of these can cause chest pains. Chest pains associated with musculoskeletal injury are typically sharp and located at a specific area of the chest. They may be brought on by movement of the chest and/or arms in certain positions, and often are relieved by changing position. These pains can be triggered by pushing on part of the chest and often become worse when taking a deep breath. These pains usually last only seconds, but can persist for days.
A rare but often fatal condition associated with chest pain occurs when a tear develops in the wall of the aorta (the large blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the head, arms, chest, abdomen, and legs). This condition, called aortic dissection, causes severe pains in the chest and/or back. Often described by survivors as the worst pain they ever experienced, the pain of aortic dissection may last hours, even days. Although it occurs most commonly in patients with high blood pressure, aortic dissection can strike others as well. It is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment.
The spinal cord runs through the spinal canal inside the spine. Smaller nerves branch off the spinal cord at various points along the neck and back and exit through openings along the spine. If one of these nerves becomes pinched where it exits the spine, pain can result. Impingement of the nerves can produce sharp "shooting" pain in the shoulders, arms, neck, or chest. These pains often are triggered by certain movements of the neck or arms. Compression fractures, chiefly due to osteoporosis, may also cause severe back pain with chest pain.
The chickenpox that most people experience as children is caused by a virus. Although the symptoms of chickenpox usually pass quickly, the virus itself can remain in the body, lying dormant for years. The virus can become "reactivated" and spread along a nerve to the skin. When this occurs, it can cause pain, and later, the development of vesicles on the skin. This condition is called "shingles."
Because the onset of pain associated with shingles can precede the appearance of vesicles by several days, a person can experience pain in the chest for several days before the cause becomes apparent. This discomfort often manifests as a dull, constant burning or pain in a localized area of the chest. Prompt recognition and diagnosis of shingles is important because medications now are available which, if administered early enough, can minimize the pain and shorten the duration of the attack.
If you have back pain with chest pain, call 911 or other emergency services immediately. This includes:
Pain in the upper back with chest pain or discomfort that is crushing or squeezing; feels like a heavy weight on the chest; or occurs with any other symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain that occurs with:
Shortness of breath.
Nausea or vomiting.
Pain that spreads from the chest to the back, neck, or jaw or one or both shoulders or arms.
Dizziness or lightheadedness.
A fast or irregular pulse.
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