Many people are surprised to learn that asthma can cause quite a bit of pain. The pain comes from muscles and other tissues, rather than from the lungs. Lung tissue does not have pain receptors. Pain is a common part of having asthma and it can also signal that asthma may be worsening or it could result from an asthma attack.
Chest and Other Pain
Chest pain and other types of pain are common before and after an asthma attack. Chest pain is the most common pain, but pain may also be experienced in the ribs (torn muscles or a fractured rib), as pleuritic pain, in the neck, abdomen and back.
What Causes the Pain?
Pain may be caused by coughing, wheezing, and torqueing the body when trying to breathe. The body works harder than normal during an asthma attack; many muscle groups come into play when we have a hard time breathing. The muscle groups used during an asthma flare or attack can include:
1). Sternocleidomastoid (neck)
2). Scalene (neck)
3. Serratus Anterior (on the side of the chest)
4). Pectoralis Major (chest)
5). Pectoralis Minor (chest)
6). Upper Trepezius (neck, shoulder and back)
7). Latissiums Dorsi (abdomen and side of chest)
8). Erector Spinae (deep back)
9). Iliocostalis Lumborum (deep back)
10). Serratus Posterior (mid back)
11). Serratus Inferior (mid back)
12). Serratus Superior (mid back)
13). Levatores Costarum (chest)
14). Traversus Thoracis (chest)
15). Subclavius (chest)
During an asthma exacerbation or attack, muscles become fatigued from overworking, which can lead to pain in the chest, neck, ribs and even the upper and lower back.
Back pain may also result when an asthma patient has a chronic cough and breathing problems. The pain can come before or after an asthma attack, or may even be present when asthma symptoms are mild. Scientists are not sure what causes the muscles to become painful before an attack. It could be inflammatory chemicals involved in asthma are released before an attack. This could be used as a warning signal, much like the prodrome that signals a migraine is on the way.
What You Can Do
1). Keep your asthma managed and stable. Take your medications every day as prescribed by your doctor. In addition, avoid all known asthma triggers.
2). Be aware of your symptoms. Back and chest pain can be a sign an asthma attack is developing, or that an attack has become more severe. Keep track of your symptoms, their severity and what seems to cause them. Using an asthma journal is a simple way to track asthma symptoms each day.
3). Stay in shape. Eating a balanced diet and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day will help your body, including your lungs, to stay healthy and strong. Making sure your core muscles are strong can also help ease back strain. Yoga, swimming and walking are safe exercises for most asthmatics. Breathing exercises specifically for asthma (such as the Buteyko Method) are also helpful to strengthen the lungs and muscles involved in breathing.
4). Take an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication to help reduce muscle tension and reduce the pain. However, use caution, as some NSAIDs can cause asthma symptoms in those sensitive to the ingredients (for instance, aspirin).
5). Use other relaxation methods. Massage can be a relaxing treatment for your aching muscles. You might also try heat packs or heating pads to sore muscles (as directed by your doctor).
If your back pain remains severe, it will be necessary to talk with your doctor to check into other possible causes and/or other pain management options. Also be sure to talk with your doctor before making any changes to your asthma management plan or exercise regimen.
Pain is a common part of having asthma, but you can help keep your body and muscles strong with exercise, a balanced diet, asthma and pain management. “Management” is the keyword—learning how to take care of your specific asthma symptoms will help you to live a better and fuller life in spite of asthma.
These days aerosol products are easy and convenient to use; however, they can be dangerous for individuals with asthma. You can protect your lungs by avoiding aerosols and/or by limiting your exposure to these products.
Please check out my new book Asthma's Nothing to Wheeze At!
Now also available on Amazon Asthma's Nothing to Wheeze At!