Is Your Chest Pain Coming From Your Back?

By Dr. Kevin Wafer

April 22, 2015

One symptom that patients rarely think of seeing a chiropractor for is chest pain.  Commonly, if someone is experiencing pain in their chest, they begin to think about the worst case scenario, a heart attack.  This happens especially when they feel chest pain when breathing deeply.

Although chest pain can be a symptom of organic disorders such as heart attack, acid reflux, or pleuritic chest pain, most people don’t know that their chest pain can also be referred pain that is coming from the spine.

Musculoskeletal chest and rib pain in known by a number of different names.  Intercostal neuritis is one condition that may cause left side chest pain, chest pain while sitting, pain in middle of chest or rib cage. Fortunately, a chiropractor is able to help with this condition.

Chest pain may be due to intercostal neuritis

chest pain

Intercostal neuritis is an inflammation of the nerves between the ribs.  These nerves start in the thoracic spine, the mid back, and wrap around to the sternum.  You may notice chest pain that comes and goes. When the intercostal nerves become inflamed, they can cause pain in the mid back that spreads around the ribs and to the chest.  A subluxation, a spinal misalignment, in the thoracic spine can cause symptoms associated with intercostal neuritis.  By finding and correcting these areas of subluxation, usually via an adjustment, chiropractors are able to relieve pain in both the mid back and chest.

It used to be common practice to “wrap” the ribs and chest area to minimize movement and ease the pain, but doctors found this led to more complications, including episodes of pneumonia. We have found that using a few strips of kinesiotape applied to the specific area post-treatment can help the spine stay in place much longer without leading to any of the complications associated with wrapping the rib cage.

Chest pain may be due to a rib subluxation

Similar to the way that a vertebra can shift out of its proper position, a rib can also become misaligned.  This can be referred to as a “slipping rib syndrome.” Each rib attaches to the side of each vertebra in the thoracic spine.  At this attachment, the rib head can move out of position causing symptoms that may mimic intercostal neuritis.  Patients suffering from a rib misalignment, can also suffer stabbing pain when trying to take a deep breath.  Chiropractors can correct these rib subluxations with an adjustment that is very similar to adjusting the thoracic spine.

Additionally, patients with pain in the chest may find relief with PEMF therapy set up to focus specifically on the area of the pain. In our office, this can be accomplished with use of the full PEMF bed or targeting specific areas with the accessory paddles that are used with soft tissue inflammation.

Once a rib has become subluxated, it does have a tendency to keep subluxating as long as the surrounding muscles remain tense and stiff. Massage therapy or regular use of a foam roller at home can make a big difference in preventing reoccurrences of rib subluxation.

Chances are, the severity of the stiffness in the thoracic spine and ribs is coming from every day tension at the office and from sitting at your desk for extended periods. Simply receiving a single chiropractic adjustment may provide a lot of initial relief, but failure to address the muscles or the cause of the ongoing stiffness will only result in return episodes that may be more severe or last longer.

pain in chest

Chest pain shouldn’t be ignored

Although chiropractors are capable of treating a number of conditions that may cause chest pain, remember that chest pain can be a sign of a severe health problem.  Be sure to consult with your health professional as soon as symptoms begin so that a proper diagnosis can be made.

Unrelenting chest pain accompanied by pain in the left arm should seek immediate medical attention and not wait to see if the symptoms go away. This really is an emergency situation where every minute counts. Delays may seriously affect the expected recovery.

Dr. Kevin Wafer

About the author

Dr. Kevin Wafer was born and raised in Spring, TX. Since his mother worked as a chiropractic assistant, he spent much of his childhood in a chiropractic clinic and was adjusted for the first time at only 3 months of age. Click Here To Read Full Bio

Recent Posts