You may experience back pain due to infection, injury, or another health condition, such as lung cancer or a heart problem.


You may feel pain at the back of your lungs for a variety of reasons. These can range from impact injuries to chronic health conditions such as cancer.

This article details possible causes of lung pain in your back, why it may be occurring, and when you should see a doctor.

There are several reasons you may be feeling pain in and around the back of your lungs.

This pain may be due to injuries or disturbances in the lining of your lungs (the pleura) or the bones and muscles surrounding the organs. Persistent coughs can even cause back pain in the back of your lungs.

However, your lungs have very few pain receptors, and people often refer to more general chest pains as lung pains.

Injury

Lung pain in your back may also be the result of an injury.

Physical trauma that affects the lining of your lungs, or the bones and muscles surrounding them, may lead to pain in a particular area.

In cases of severe injury, a broken rib can puncture one of your lungs. These punctures can heal on their own but may require emergency surgery.

Infections

Infections in the lungs and their lining can cause pain and discomfort when you breathe.

Pleurisy, which is inflammation in the lining of the lungs, can cause sharp pains in the back and chest. This can often be the result of a viral or bacterial infection.

Asthma, a chronic, long-term infection of the lung, may also cause pain in your back.

Costochondritis is inflammation of rib cage cartilage. This can be the result of injury, infection, or irritation.

The condition can cause sharp, intense pain or may develop gradually. If you experience costochondritis in the back of your ribs, this may feel like a pain in the back of your lungs.

Learn more about lung infections here.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is when the spine curves in an abnormal way.

Severe scoliosis can change the structure of the chest and affect lung function. Typically, curving of the spine will restrict lung size, which can cause pain in the lung lining and surrounding muscles.

Learn more about scoliosis pain here.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that occurs in the lungs. The most common symptom of a pulmonary embolism is shortness of breath, but it can also cause pain throughout the chest and upper back.

Blood clots in the lung are a medical emergency. If you suspect you have a pulmonary embolism, you should seek immediate medical help.

Pulmonary hyperinflation

Pulmonary hyperinflation occurs when the lungs cannot empty efficiently. This may be the result of airway blockages or poor working air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs.

If you have pulmonary hyperinflation, you may have difficulty inhaling and generally struggle to breathe normally. This can often cause dull, continuous pain in the lungs.

Pulmonary hyperinflation is common in advanced emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Atelectasis

Atelectasis occurs when air sacs in the lungs collapse or do not expand as they should. This means that these sacs are no longer able to fill with air.

If atelectasis affects a small part of the lungs, it may not cause any symptoms. However, if it involves a large portion of the lung, it may result in sharp, short-lived pains.

The condition is often the result of airway blockages. Still, you may also experience atelectasis due to pressure from outside the lungs, fluid buildup, or a broader collapse of the lung.

Heart conditions

Conditions affecting the heart may cause pain in your chest. These pains may also feel like they’re spreading to, or coming from, your lungs.

A lack of blood flow to the heart can cause angina, a type of chest pain. In severe cases, lack of blood flow to the heart can cause stroke or a heart attack.

Pain resulting from these conditions can spread throughout the chest, lungs, and back.

Lung cancer

Back pain can accompany certain types of cancer, including lung cancer.

According to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, about 25 percent of people with lung cancer experience back pain. In fact, back pain is frequently the first lung cancer symptom that people notice before diagnosis.

Back pain may also arise as a side effect of cancer treatment.

If you’re concerned that your back pain could be a symptom of lung cancer, consider whether you have other common symptoms of lung cancer, such as:

Your lungs sit within your rib cage. The top of your lungs peak just above your collarbone (clavicle). At your back, your lungs extend to your 12th, or bottom, rib.

Along with your ribs, your spine encases your lungs from the outside.

Find out more about the anatomy of your lungs here.

In some cases, you may feel pain in only one side of your lung.

Causes of pain in the right side of your lung include:

  • muscles strains or blunt trauma
  • pleurisy
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • pulmonary embolism
  • pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure in the blood vessels in the lung
  • pneumothorax, a collapsed lung

Learn more about pain in the right side of your chest here.

Pain in your left lung will typically result from similar conditions as pain in your right lung.

However, heart conditions such as angina and stroke are more likely to cause chest pain in the left side of your body.

While this pain may not specifically come from your lungs, it’s crucial to seek medical assistance if you experience severe pains in the left of your chest.

Learn more about left lung pain here.

If you have persistent symptoms, including pain in your back that concerns you, make an appointment with a doctor.

If your doctor thinks lung cancer might be causing your symptoms, they will typically use a physical exam, imaging, and lab tests to reach a diagnosis.

If they discover lung cancer, the treatment will depend on its type and stage. Treatment options include: