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LotusEater83's avatar

Why do my lungs ache after I carry my backpack?

Asked by LotusEater83 (1points) June 29th, 2007

(24 year old male, approx. 5'10" and 60Kg.)

I've been travelling with a backpack for six months. In mid-April I developed chest pain while travelling through the snowy eastern part of Turkey. Initially I put it down to the cold; venturing outdoors certainly made the feeling worse. My lungs felt heavy and constricted, and lifting my backpack (weighing less than ten kilos) caused considerable pain across the inside of my chest. That evening I developed an intense stabbing pain in my upper left abdomen every time I took a breath. I've experienced this sensation before, perhaps once every six or eight months, but it usually clears up within five minutes if I sit absolutely still and take shallow breaths. However, after trying to relax for three or four hours the pain was still just as intense. I became worried and found a doctor. He listened to my pulse and chest (no cough, no discharge) and said he thought I had either pleurisy, caused by a virus, or else a myalgic muscular strain. He instructed me to keep as warm as possible and prescribed both muscle-relaxant gel and some anti-inflammatories. Neither seemed to have a noticeable effect but, after finding an extremely warm room, the pain eased off and I was able to sleep, though the feeling of breathlessness and the 'heaviness' in my chest and arms persisted for several more days.

I've been trying to carry my backpack as little as possible since then, and also to lighten the load. It's now less than 5 kilos, but even after carrying it for five or ten minutes I'll usually feel a tightness in my chest for a day or so afterwards. I'm in Vietnam at the moment and the temperature is above 30 degrees, but two days ago the breathlessness and heaviness in my chest returned.

At the moment my lungs feel 'heavy' and breathing causes more effort than it should, though the pain isn't much worse during inhalation. I feel breathless when walking, and I am most comfortable when lying flat on my back. Additionally, my left arm feels 'full up,' as though someone is squeezing all the blood downwards towards my hand. This is most noticeable when walking.
I've woken up several times in the past couple of days with a racing and heart and very strong pins and needles sensation in my hand and arm, as if they were completely empty of blood. When I was 18 I was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and the arrythmia has been much worse than usual in the past two days,

Over the same period I've also had bad indigestion and lots of trapped wind.

Has anyone experienced similar symptoms after carrying a backpack? I have no idea whether these symtoms are pleuritic, muscular, circulatory, caused by a hernia, etc.
Does pleuritic inflammation of the lungs sound like a good explanation, and can it be repeatedly triggered by carrying a backpack for even short intervals?

I intend to visit a doctor as soon as I arrive at the nearest city (Da Nang) but in the meantime I'd very much appreciate any feedback about what might be causing these symptoms.

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5 Answers

samkusnetz's avatar

first of all: i'm not a doctor.

but the lung pain sure does sound a lot like pleurisy to me. in addition to what you've learned, it can also be caused by dehydration or by a simple common cold, and it frequently sounds and feels much scarier than it really is.

the answer to your last question is yes: pleurisy can be triggered by any kind of activity that puts strain on your chest cavity, especially if you are unwell in other ways (sick, dehydrated, tired).

the pins and needles and "full" feeling in your arm suggests to me that your backpack doesn't fit you well enough, and you are constricting blood flow to your arm by pinching an artery. this is uncomfortable in the short term, but can be dangerous in the long term. does your backpack have a waist belt? it should, and you should be carrying much if not most of the weight of your bag on your hips. if you don't have a belt on your bag, try carrying the backpack with the shoulder straps way out on the edge of your shoulders, like they're about to slip off. i don't recommend doing that for very long, but it can provide relief to the pinching feeling.

the indigestion sounds to me like you're just traveling a lot and changing diets frequently, and your stomach can't keep up. happens to me often as well.

but really, it sounds like enough is going wrong that you need to see a real doctor soon.

be well, hike safe, and keep us posted!

hossman's avatar

Have you had any localized swelling in your face or extremities, and are the symptoms worse at higher altitudes?

occ's avatar

i experienced some chest pain while traveling a few yeasr ago, before I realized that it was actually altitude sickness--I was too high up and not getting enough oxygen. That might explain tyour conditiona worsening if you were in the snowy parts of turkey, but I'm not sure about Vietnam. But--I'm not a doctor and so I agree with samkusnetz, best to get to a doctor in the nearest city...good luck with your travels --feel better--and let us know how it works out!

herstory's avatar

Not a doctor either . . . However, have had more chest pain than I wanna admit, for various reasons. . . Had great doctors to help me along (thankfully). . . Hope your solution is swift and easy too. . . Your initial dr.'s guess of muscle strain or virus might be right, but you are smart to further investigate and keep on top of this, regardless.

Not knowing the long-term weather trends of the places you have spent a lot of time, I can't speak to your specific situation. However, I can give you an example of an epidemic that is building here in the western United States, due to a fungus that naturally occurs in the air. The fungus is extra prevalent right now, due to the extremely long dry spell of weather throughout the western US.

Here is an article about the fungal infection caused by the fungus, and the various names the infection is known by here - Apparently there are variations of such lung fungal infections in other parts of the world that are being studied, but I am not sure about your particular location: (copy & paste link)

Just an FYI - hopefully this isn't your issue, but knowledge is power, regardless!
Keeping fingers crossed that you just have some overworked, tired muscles.

occ's avatar

Hi LotusEater, did everything turn out fine in the end? I’m curious to hear if you ever got a diagnosis…I hope everything turned out to be okay!

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