Chest Pain: Is it a Heart Attack or Your Spine?
What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?
Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — the “movie heart attack,” where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the centre of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one (commonly left) or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
If you think you or someone with you is having a heart attack, call 000 immediately!
Don’t wait longer than a few minutes (no more than five) before calling for help. Call 000 … Get to a hospital urgently.
What are the Symptoms of Chest Pain originating from your Spine?
Your spine is a common cause of chest pain, which we can resolve by treating your thoracic spine and rib cage. However, chest pain originating from your spine won’t kill you, but a heart attack can!
- Spinal Discs can refer pain through to your anterior chest wall like a knitting needle. Coughing or sneezing hurts.
- Spinal Facet Joints refer to pain that travels around your rib cage. Trunk movements will aggravate or ease your pain.
- Rib Joints send pain down and around your rib cage. Pain can be increased with coughing, deep breathing and trunk or shoulder movements.
- Back Muscles will generally be more painful in sustained postures, e.g. sitting at a computer. These are commonly felt between your shoulder blades and can be relieved by massage.
What to Do Next?
As mentioned earlier, if you suspect a heart attack, call 000 immediately and get to the hospital straight away.
If your symptoms are not heart attack related, consult your physiotherapist for an assessment of your spinal and chest joints and muscles. Most muscular or joint pain will be relieved after your very first consultation.
Common Causes of Upper Back Pain & Injury
Thoracic Spine Conditions
- Scheuermann's Disease
- Spinal Stenosis
- Rib Stress Fracture
Nerve-Related / Referred Pain
Article by John Miller
Youth Spinal Pain
Teenager Neck & Back Pain
Teenagers can be particularly vulnerable to back pain, mainly due to a combination of high flexibility and low muscle strength and posture control.
The competitive athlete and most individuals who exercise regularly or maintain fitness and core stability control are less prone to spine injury and problems due to the strength and flexibility of supporting structures. Luckily, issues involving the lower lumbar spine are rare in athletes and account for less than 10% of sports-related injuries. Injuries do occur in contact sports and with repetitive strain sports. Your physiotherapist can assist in the resolution of any deficits in this area.
Sports such as gymnastics, cricket fast bowlers, and tennis have a higher incidence of associated lumbar spine problems related to repetitive twisting and hyper-bending motions.
Spondylolisthesis is a significant concern and needs to be appropriately treated by a physiotherapist with a particular interest in these types of injuries. Luckily, most injuries are minor, self-limited, and respond quickly to physiotherapy treatment.
Common Adolescent Spinal Injuries
Lower Back (Lumbar Spine)
Midback (Thoracic Spine)
Neck (Cervical Spine)
For specific advice regarding youth neck or back pain, please seek the professional advice of your trusted spinal physiotherapist or doctor.