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Date of last update: 10/19/2017.

Forum Name: Miscellaneous Chest Diseases

Question: upper back pain with difficulty breathing

 kwilson488 - Sat Nov 08, 2008 4:00 am

I am a 20 year old female in relatively good health. I have for the past week been experiencing some problems at night sleeping. I have woken up twice with severe pain in my upper/middle back that makes me feel like I can't breath. I can't sleep when it hits me. I can't lay on my back or side. The only thing that halfway relieves it is to sit on my knees bent over a pillow.

To give you a little history I had suffered from a severely herniated disk for about 3 years. I underwent physical therapy, epidural steroid injections, chiropractor visits. Nothing help so we finally did surgery in April of 2008. When he went in apparently the disk had ruptured. After surgery I couldn't breath well when they ex-tubated me so they re-intubated me. They then informed us that I had pulmonary edema and pneumonia. They couldn't find a cause they just assumed I had a reaction to the anesthesia. All of my labs were normal. My body systems seemed normal on the test. My overnight stay for observation turned into 6 days in the hospital, 4 of which were in ICU.

I guess my question is any idea what might be causing me this pain. It prevents me from sleeping. And could it be related to the events that happened in April. My doctors are all booked for a few weeks so I can't get in to see them yet. Any insight you might have would be greatly appreciated.
 John Kenyon, CNA - Mon Nov 24, 2008 10:00 pm

User avatar Hi there -

It seems pretty likely the upper back pain and difficulty breathing would be related, in some way, to the ordeal you went through back in April. You don't mention which disk had ruptured and was repaired, so it's difficult to make a more direct connection, but the fact that all the other problems took place then as well just makes it more likely this is related to that. Also, the fact that the current problem seems somewhat positional (hurts to lie on your back or side, and is partially relieved by assuming a fairly unnatural postion -- at least for sleeping purposes).

A number of things could be going on: for one, the original problem, were it a cervical or thoracic disk, could have become aggravated in some way (or at least the site of its location). I don't think your episode of respiratory distress post surgery would be related to the current problem, at least not directly. However, having been intubated twice during your hospital stay there is always the potential for a nerve injury, although it's difficult to say which one, given the symptoms. It could involve the phrenic nerve (but then you'd have breathing problems all the time) or a cranial nerve that descends into the thorax (but then you'd likely have constant hoarseness and other, neurological, signs as well.

It seems the first stop probably should be an orthopedist or perhaps a neurologist, someone who could help determine the cause of the current problem. If the pain and sleep deprivation are severe enough and you can't be seen by any specialist in the office, this would perhaps warrant a visit to an ER. This would possibly get you seen sooner, too, by one of the specialists.

If you can supply any further info on the disk that was repaired, that might just give us a clue. Other than that, I do believe it's orthopedic in nature most likely. Best I can do with what I have to go on. I hope it gets better real soon. Please follow up with us as needed.

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