Pain is the way your body is telling you there is something wrong and you need to do something about it. Although you may feel pain directly on the part of the body that needs your attention, sometimes you will feel it in other places (called referred pain). Because there are many organs inside your chest, you may experience various types of pain, from crushing chest to burning in chest and back. You have your lungs, your heart, big arteries (aorta), and your gullet (esophagus) all cramped in a small space. Your stomach and your liver are also tucked under the ribs, although they are below the diaphragm, a muscle that divides your chest from your abdomen. Let us see some causes of pain and burning sensation in chest and back. Here are some commonest causes and ways on how to deal with them.
It is important to know that you should seek medical help in most cases of severe pain that lasts for more than half an hour, or if you start feeling unwell. Burning sensation might be less worrisome but read on to find out what can be the cause of your pain and what you can do yourself.
Pain from Your Gullet
If the chest pain is from your gullet, then here are some different conditions about it.
Possibly the commonest cause of burning in the chest is due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Sometimes you may have too much acid in your stomach, either because of anxiety and stress or because of a medical condition. If any acid escapes from the stomach and reaches your gullet, you will feel burning pain in the center of your chest and lungs.
2. Other concerning conditions
Sometimes pain can be due to more concerning conditions. Cancer of the gullet can cause you to feel pain when you swallow and difficulty in swallowing. Esophageal pouches and strictures can have similar symptoms.
If you experience this type of pain frequently, cut down on anything that can cause further damage such as alcohol and acidic drinks.
Drink plenty of water and avoid lying down immediately after food as this will reduce the chances of stomach content traveling up into your gullet.
You can also take medicines for heartburn, like Gaviscon liquid. This protects the gullet from the acid.
If the pain is getting worse or not improving after a while, it is best to seek medical attention.
Pain from Your Stomach - Ulcers
Sometimes too much acid in the stomach or certain bacterial infections can cause ulcers in the stomach. You may experience burning in chest and back which can become more of a stabbing pain in the lower part of your chest and back (sometimes as high as between your shoulder blades).
If you ever experience this together with black stools, you should go to a doctor immediately because it means you are bleeding from the stomach. Otherwise, you can try some over the counter medicines that reduce the acid. These might also help with symptoms due to reflux.
Pain from the Heart - Heart Attack
If you have a heart attack, you will feel a crushing sensation rather than burning in chest and back. You might have jaw or neck pain, and feel like you cannot breathe well. If you are young you are unlikely to suffer from this, however, the older you get the higher the chances even if you lead a healthy life and exercise regularly. Always go to the hospital if your breathing is affected and you feel a crushing sensation.
Pain from Your Lungs
Problems from your lungs can also give you pain, especially if the lining of the lungs (pleura) is also inflamed.
Everytime you breathe, the lungs slide on your ribs and you will feel sharp pain if there is inflammation. There are different causes for pleurisy and one of them is a chest infection so you may also have breathing difficulties and cough.
If air escapes from your lungs it will get trapped between the lungs and the chest wall. This is a pneumothorax (air in the chest). You may experience some mild pain and shortness of breath. As with other causes of breathlessness, it is important to seek medical attention because you may end up with a tension pneumothorax. This is when the air escaping starts to press on your lungs so that you cannot fill your lungs with as much air as you need.
3. Other conditions
Lung cancer may also cause the burning sensation in your lungs and back and as cancer starts invading adjacent structures it will become more painful. If you ever have blood when you cough, you should see a doctor immediately because this might be the first presentation of lung cancer.
Pain from Your Aorta - Aortic Dissection
Pain due to rupture of your aorta (aortic dissection) is probably the most serious cause of pain in your upper back. You will feel sudden chest pain, usually between your shoulder blades, and it may also go onto your neck and arms. The doctors will diagnose it based on x-rays, your blood pressure, and other investigations. There is nothing you can do to treat it at home and it may happen without you ever knowing you had problems with the aorta. If it is slow, you will have time to go to the hospital. Some people are unlucky and the rupture happens so quickly they die at home or out of the hospital.
Pain from the Chest Wall
Your chest is made of bones and muscles. If you overexert them, you will have pain, just like after going to the gym! Situations, where this will occur, is if you are coughing a lot due to a lung problem like chronic bronchitis. In these cases, you have to treat the underlying cause.