Coughing generally has the purpose of expelling mucus and other materials from the lungs and upper respiratory pathways, though sometimes it is a symptom of an allergic reaction and produces nothing. Whether your cough is related to a cold, flu, allergies or asthma, coughing can cause chest and back pain. There are two main types of coughing back pain.
When you cough, a number of muscles in your body contract. These are the normal respiratory and the accessory respiratory muscles. The muscles of the stomach and ribs are normal respiratory muscles. Accessory muscles are found in the back and chest.
You are most likely to suffer a muscle strain from coughing if your cough is prolonged or violent. The constant tensing of a muscle causes it to fatigue, at which point it is not receiving fresh blood flow or ridding waste properly. An overworked muscle can suffer small tears that normally heal within a couple of days, but only if allowed to rest. If you continue to cough, the tears may accumulate and the strain becomes a prolonged situation.
Muscular pain from a cough tends to be sharp. It can be felt especially when coughing, but the muscle will also be tender and sore when you aren’t coughing. In order to repair the muscle, you need to get a handle on your cough. This may require prescription medications, over-the-counter medications or home remedies like apple cider vinegar and honey or steam-bathing your head over a pot of hot water infused with eucalyptus oil.
Ice is the best way to manage painful inflammation in and around the injured muscle. With your cough under control and frequent icing for 15 minutes at a time during the first two days of injury, your muscle strain should heal. If the strain has become exacerbated by an inability to stop coughing, talk to a doctor about your options.
Nerve and Disc Pain
When you cough, the pressure in your chest and abdomen increases. This is caused by the relaxation of the diaphragm combined with the tightening of your rib and stomach muscles when you cough. As pressure increases inside the body, it pushes outward on surrounding structures, including the spine.
If you have a bulging or herniated disc in your lower or upper back, coughing will likely be especially painful. A disc is comprised of a fluid center and a tough exterior ring. If the ring weakens, the fluid is pushed to the weaker side and a bulge forms. If the ring breaks and the fluid leaks out, the disc has herniated. Both of these situations can cause nerve impingement; spinal nerves run through a column in the spine positioned behind the discs. When a disc bulge or herniated fluid irritates a spinal nerve, sharp localized pain is felt as well as pain, numbness and/or tingling along the affected nerve’s pathway.
The increase in pressure experienced during a cough affects the lower and upper back. If a bulging or herniated disc is present, the push it experiences from the stomach or chest will cause more fluid to be pushed into the bulge or out of the herniation, leading to the symptoms above. In rare cases, a chronic cough could cause disc damage due to the near-constant pressure on the spine, but it is more likely that the disc problem existed already and coughing has merely exacerbated it.
Disc problems are best treated with decompression treatments, chiropractic care or exercise therapy depending on the cause.
Coughing can strain muscles and place excess pressure on injured discs. Getting your cough under control is the first step to relieving these types of back pain.