Why Does It Hurt When I Sneeze?

Feb 7, 2024

Sneezing is a natural, protective reflex designed to clear the nasal passages of irritants and allergens. Typically, it’s a harmless and quick response, yet for some individuals, it can be accompanied by unexpected and occasionally severe pain. This pain during a sneeze can range from a sharp twinge to a more persistent discomfort, transforming what should be a simple bodily reflex into a source of apprehension. The root causes of this discomfort are varied, often stemming from the body’s muscular reactions or underlying health conditions that can exacerbate the forceful expulsion of air. In this blog, we will explore the complexities of the sneezing process, shedding light on why it can sometimes lead to pain.

Why Does My Body Hurt When I Sneeze?

A sneeze is more than just a quick blast of air through your nose and mouth. It’s a complex, coordinated action involving various parts of the body. When irritants like dust, pollen, or pepper enter the nasal passages, they trigger sensory nerves within the mucous lining. These nerves send a signal to the brain, specifically to the sneeze center in the lower brainstem. The brain then orchestrates a response that involves closing the throat, eyes, and mouth. Muscles in the chest and abdomen contract forcefully, creating a high-pressure buildup in the lungs. This pressure is released as a fast, powerful blast of air through the nose and mouth, expelling the irritants.

This sequence involves a significant amount of muscle work, especially from the abdominal, chest, and diaphragm muscles. The sudden, forceful contraction of these muscles, combined with a rapid closure of the glottis in the throat, creates a high-pressure environment within the body. This is why, when something goes wrong or when there’s an underlying issue, sneezing can result in pain, even in your arm

Common Causes of Pain When Sneezing

Muscle Strain

The rapid contraction and relaxation of muscles during a sneeze can lead to muscle strain, especially if the muscles are already tight or weakened from previous strain or lack of use. This strain can manifest as a sharp pain in the back, chest, or abdominal area immediately following a sneeze.

Sinus Infections

Sinus infections, or sinusitis, cause inflammation and swelling of the sinus tissues. This inflammation can lead to increased pressure in the sinus cavities, which is further exacerbated by the force of a sneeze, causing facial pain or headache.

Herniated Discs

A herniated disc occurs when the soft inner gel of a spinal disc protrudes through a tear in the outer layer. The sudden pressure increase from sneezing can cause the herniated disc to press against nearby nerves, leading to sharp, radiating pain in the neck, back, or limbs.

Rib Injuries

Rib injuries, including fractures, bruises, or intercostal muscle strains, can make sneezing extremely painful. The force of a sneeze puts additional pressure on the ribcage, exacerbating any existing injuries and causing significant discomfort.

Understanding these common causes is the first step toward addressing and managing the pain associated with sneezing. While some of these conditions may resolve on their own or with minimal intervention, others require medical attention to prevent complications.

When to Be Concerned: Sneezing Pain Warning Signs

When sneezing is accompanied by symptoms beyond occasional, mild discomfort, it’s important to consider if these could be warning signs necessitating medical attention. Persistent or severe pain, especially when paired with fever, severe headaches, unusual nasal discharge, shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness post-sneezing, should prompt a visit to a healthcare provider. These symptoms can indicate underlying conditions ranging from infections like sinusitis to more serious issues such as herniated discs or rib fractures, requiring professional evaluation and treatment.
Moreover, if sneeze-related pain significantly impacts your daily life or sleep, and if it occurs suddenly without an obvious cause, it’s critical to seek medical advice. Conditions like allergic rhinitis or spinal issues might be the culprits. A healthcare provider can offer a comprehensive assessment to identify the root cause and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. Early intervention is key to preventing complications and facilitating a prompt recovery.

Tips for Preventing and Managing Pain from Sneezing

To effectively manage and prevent the discomfort associated with sneezing, incorporating certain practices into your daily routine can make a significant difference. Focusing on overall health and specific preventative measures can mitigate the impact of sneezing and reduce the occurrence of pain:

  • Maintain Good Posture: Keeping a good posture, especially when a sneeze is imminent, can help distribute the force more evenly across the body, minimizing the risk of muscle strain.
  • Strengthen Core Muscles: A strong core provides better support for your body during the sudden, forceful movements of a sneeze, reducing the likelihood of injury.
  • Manage Allergies: Identifying and avoiding allergy triggers can decrease the frequency of sneezing. Medications and consultations with an allergist are effective ways to control allergic reactions.
  • Consult Healthcare Providers: For personalized advice and strategies tailored to your health needs, consulting with professionals like those at AICA is crucial. They can offer insights into preventative care and management techniques based on your individual health profile.

Comprehensive Care for Sneezing Pain: How AICA Orthopedics Can Help

At AICA Orthopedics, we understand the complexities of sneeze-related pain and the broader impact it can have on your life. Our multi-specialty group in Atlanta combines the expertise of orthopedic, neuro-spine, interventional spine, and pain management doctors, alongside a complete neurology team, all under one roof. Our approach ensures that anyone in pain or those recently injured receive comprehensive diagnosis and treatment plans tailored to their needs. With the latest in neurological testing and imaging equipment, including high-field and multiple open MRIs, we are equipped to handle a wide range of injuries and conditions. Whether you’re recovering from a car accident, a slip and fall, a work injury, or suffering from ongoing pain, AICA Orthopedics’ extensive range of healthcare professionals and diagnostic tools enable quick diagnoses and faster recovery times.

Don’t let the pain associated with sneezing—or any other discomfort—disrupt your life. Find an Atlanta injury clinic near you to learn more or schedule an appointment. Your well-being deserves nothing but the best.



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