Can Emphysema Cause Back Pain?

Emphysema is not only an obstructive lung condition in which the alveoli get damaged, but also may cause extra-pulmonary abnormalities with systemic features. For example, it may affect other parts of the body or cause comorbid conditions that have nothing to do with the lung such as anemia and osteoporosis. Can it cause back pain, too?


This chronic disease belongs to a group of lung diseases called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Obstructive means difficulty to exhale all the air from the lungs – there is usually still an abnormally high amount of air that linger in the lungs after at the end of a maximum (full) exhalation.

The disease mainly targets the small air sacs at the end of bronchioles called alveoli. Alveoli are the crucial part of the lung where the gas exchange occurs. Here oxygen that you inhale from the air will enter into the blood and carbon dioxide out of it.

The damaged alveoli can make it more difficult for breathing. Shortness of breath is the main symptom. At first it usually flares up on exertion such as during exercise. But as the disease becomes advanced, shortness of breath may strike even while you’re at rest. Other symptoms include wheezing, cough, or tightness in the chest.

The bad news, there is currently no cure and the damage can be permanent. Therefore, it’s very important for people with emphysema to control and prevent the disease from worsening. Although it’s incurable, it’s controllable especially if the disease has not become advanced! You might also like to read the chance to reverse emphysema in this section!

The damage usually progresses gradually. If this is poorly controlled, some serious complications can occur. In fact emphysema is one of major causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Even in 2020, it would be the 3rd leading cause of death.

The exact way of how it occurs is not fully known. But in general, smoking is often to blame. Most cases of emphysema are associated with cigarette smoking, though there are also many smokers who don’t develop the disease.

Quitting smoking is the most common advice recommended by the doctors to help cope with the disease and prevent it from worsening. It’s also one of the best ways to prevent the disease.

In a few cases, emphysema is attributed by other factors. These include long-term exposure to other airborne irritants or in rare cases due to genetic factor (such as a condition called alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency).

Back pain

It’s a consequence /symptom of a number of many different causes and conditions. Many times it is a minor problem, but sometimes it may also signal a serious health condition.

Anyone can have it at some point in life. However in general, the risk of developing back pain is relatively higher in people with the following risk factors:

  1. Older age. The older you are, more susceptible to have back pain. In most cases, people may first have it at the ages of 30-40.
  2. It is more commonly found in individuals who are not fit (low physical fitness).
  3. Being obese or overweight. More extra weight you gain can add your spine’s job, making it work harder to support the body. This eventually may lead to pain in the back.
  4. Genetic factor. Sometimes back pain, such as arthritis of the spine called ankylosing spondylitis, is attributed by a genetic component.
  5. If you work in environment in which you have to frequently pull, push, or lift while twisting the spine.

In a few cases, race may also have an effect. For example, back pain affects black women more often than white women.

Can emphysema cause back pain?

Actually, this chronic obstructive lung disease is not a painful disease, and pain is not the main symptom. But pain management is also important because the disease may cause pain due to other factors or its comorbid conditions.

Back pain is not a common symptom of emphysema. However, it is also quite common in people with COPD (including for those with emphysema) – especially true if the disease has become advanced.

Emphysema can lead to back pain in several ways. These include:


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