Can you pull a muscle or even strain your back by coughing? And what can you do to prevent this sort of injury? Muscle strains can happen as a result of any unusual activity – you’d likely get a problem if you laughed or yawned repeatedly for hours. But coughing is essential for clearing lungs after an infection so it’s not something you can or should avoid, however much the muscles hurt.
The muscles supporting your spine have to contract and tense when the process of coughing expels air forcibly from the lungs. You’ll also feel sore and tender due to your immune response working as it should. The system responds to a virus by flooding the body with cytokines and other biochemicals to fight the invader. You’ll feel this in your joints and back, particularly as cytokines activate sensory nerve fibres called nociceptors which send pain signals to the brain. It’s all part of the activity of a healthy immune system, just as that cough is persistent but necessary.
Here’s how to minimise muscle strain when you’re dealing with it.
- Don’t hunch forward. You will instinctively round your back when you cough or sneeze – but this increases the pressure on the spinal discs by a massive 300 percent. If you already suffer from an injury here, suddenly bending forward will cause pressure on the nerves. So, when you cough, try to keep your back as naturally straight as you can.
- Lean on something. When you know a fit of coughing or sneezing is on the way, reach down to support yourself on a surface. This will relieve pressure on the spine.
- Stuck in bed? Support your lower back by placing a pillow under the knees or between your legs (when lying on your side). You may feel like you don’t want to get up at all, but as soon as you can, make a point of moving about, changing position and walking about gently within your home.
- Sort out lumbar support. Sitting in an armchair is a nice alternative to lying down, but make sure your lower back is supported, especially if the armchair is squashy. A cushion or even a rolled up dressing gown or jumper will help to mitigate the effects of sudden coughing fits forcing the lumbar region outward.