Many times, back pain with coughing is related to a muscle problem like sprain, strain, or tension. This leads to muscle stiffness, spasm, tightness, pain, or tenderness.
Let’s review a little bit of anatomy here. In our backs, we have our spine which is made up of seven vertebrae in our neck, twelve in our upper back, and five in our lower back.
Our middle vertebrae have twelve pairs of ribs attached to them by small joints and ligaments. The joint between the vertebrae and the rib is called the “costovertebral joint.”
In addition, many of the muscles in the upper back are attached to the ribs.
When the upper back muscles contract forcefully (coughing, intense exercise, or injury), too much pressure can be put on the ribs and costovertebral joints. This typically causes pain in the upper back that feels worse with coughing, sneezing, and laughing. This problem can also arise from performing an awkward movement or having bad posture for a prolonged period of time.
If this funky costovertebral joint doesn’t get better (or gets worse), then other muscles like in the neck and shoulder become affected and can go into severe spasm. This leads to pain such as dull, achy headaches and possible restriction of neck movement. All bad things.
As you might know, all of the muscles in your back are connected. Your back muscles are responsible for holding your vertebrae in place and also connect to nerves stretching throughout your entire body. So, they have big jobs to do.
Since your back muscles are holding your spine in place, increased pressure within the spinal canal from a forceful cough or sneeze can cause mid to lower back pain. Even yawning, overstretching, and laughing can produce this pain.
If you have weak back muscles or have suffered from back injuries in the past, you are even more vulnerable to this type of pain.
Further, pain that occurs mostly in the lower back is usually due to strain after an intense physical task or improper body mechanics (for example: lifting with your back and not your legs).
In addition to lower back pain with coughing, lower back strain can also cause pain in the upper legs and groin area.
Of course, there are other explanations for lower back pain which are typically chronic conditions such as scoliosis, sciatica, arthritis, or a herniated disc. If you can’t treat back pain on your own, it may be time to see someone.
Now you might ask, “can coughing actually cause back pain?” Yes indeed.
Let’s say you got stuck with a lingering cough and you are hacking up a lung day and night.
Those repeated bouts of coughing can actually lead to a muscle strain. Sometimes, severe, forceful coughing can cause small hernias or even fractured ribs. These instances (thankfully) are quite rare.
So our muscles are the usual culprit for back pain with coughing. What else could it be? And what do I do about it?
No, I’m not giving you an excuse stay in bed all week. Rest simply means to take a break from the activities that may have caused or worsened your back pain. So, consider taking it easy on your pickup basketball games or heavy lifting.
For the most benefit, only lie down a few hours at a time and never for more than two days. When lying down whether on your back or side, make sure to keep your knees supported with a pillow.
You can try either hot or cold packs to see what works best for you.
In general, cold works better right after the injury has occurred to help cut down on inflammation.
Heat can treat several types of back pain and is best for muscles that are tight and crampy.
You can always alternate between hot and cold therapy to get the best of both worlds.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) is a type of therapy that delivers low voltage electrical currents to relax your muscles and cut down on back pain symptoms.
Sound a little intense? Well, you actually don’t even need to go to a clinic or hospital to receive TENS therapy; you can do it in the comfort of your own home.
Check out this video below about TENS therapy and how to use it for back pain.
A good night’s sleep and a supportive mattress are vital to a pain-free back.
Old and unsupportive mattresses cause back pain due to improper spine support and alignment while sleeping.
Yes, a new mattress is an investment but it might make a world of difference.
We’re big fans of The Wirecutter and how they review products. If you’re in the market for a new mattress, check out their reviews.
Many of us tend to have poor posture for a number of reasons: looking down at our phones constantly, typing at a keyboard all day, or craning our necks.
Also sitting for prolonged periods of time (while driving, watching TV, or while using a computer) puts a lot of strain on the neck and shoulder muscles which leads to decreased circulation and inflammation.
Try to keep your spine in good alignment when sitting or standing. And if you are sitting for prolonged periods of time, make sure you get up and move around and stretch a bit at least every hour.
In general, it is recommended that people who suffer from lower back pain stay active as much as possible.
Staying active gets the blood flowing keeping muscles, ligaments, and tendons healthy and strong. Of course, staying active also prevents weight gain which can put stress on the muscles and make back pain worse.
Great exercises for those with back pain include walking and swimming. There are also a lot of great yoga poses you can do to help stretch the back muscles such as half-pigeon or legs up the wall.
That nagging back pain when you cough, whether it be upper or lower back is often caused by a muscle strain.
These muscle strains can come about for a number of reasons: repetitive, awkward movements, poor posture, inactivity, and even the action of coughing.
Take care of your back and practice good posture and body mechanics every day to get rid of and prevent further pain and distress.
Meet the Author
Shannon is a nurse practitioner with an array of clinical experience. She is particularly passionate about health promotion and disease prevention. When she's not nurse practitioner-ing or writing, she enjoys reading, cooking, and yoga. You can check out her blog at https://shannonthenp.com.