Updated: 2019, Jul 25

Rib Cage Pain: Common Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

Rib Cage Pain: Common Causes, Signs, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

What is Rib Cage Pain?

Rib cage pain refers to the discomfort and pain that is felt in the ribs. There can be many reasons which lead to the development of this condition. Identification of the cause of the disease is essential to provide proper treatment.

What are the Causes of Rib Cage Pain?

Rib cage pain can occur due to many reasons.

  • Problems with the bones, soft tissues, and joints are the main reasons behind the development of rib cage pain.
  • Pain in the rib cage can occur due to an injury like a motor accident or due to an impact or a blow which was received during an athletic event. These conditions can give rise to a fractured or bruised rib, which in turn leads to the development of pain in the rib cage.
  • A simple pulled muscle can also lead to the development of pain.
  • Costochondritis, which is the inflammation of the cartilage near the breast bone, can also lead to the development of pain in the region near the ribs.

At times the pain can occur just like that without any explanation.

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What Serious Conditions May Cause Sharp Pain?

A condition like pleurisy, which is an irritation to the lining of the lungs, is a serious condition that leads to the development of rib cage pain. Abnormalities related to the bones and joints, like osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis can also cause pain in the rib cage.

The condition of rib pain can also be caused by lung cancer. As the lung cancer grows, it will press on the rib cage which surrounds the lungs. This pressure exerted can also lead to the development of pain in the rib cage.

Bone cancer is another serious condition which leads to the development of rib cage pain.

The condition of pneumonia can also lead to the development of rib cage pain. Whooping cough and tuberculosis are two other serious conditions that present itself with the symptom of rib cage pain.

Sometimes the pain can be caused due to the problem in the spinal cord. Since this pain is not caused by deformities in the rib cage, doctors refer to it as a referred pain.

If the rib cage pain is caused without any specific reason, or if it is prolonged and unexplained, then you should immediately consult your healthcare professional. These symptoms can be the indication of an impending heart attack.

How is Rib Cage Pain Identified?

There are many methods of identifying rib cage pain.

  • Rib cage pain will be felt in the chest above the ribs, either on one side or on both sides.
  • When a rib gets broken, then the pain will get worse if you bend or twist your body.
  • You will experience the pain when you breathe or when you move the body into a certain specific position.

How is Rib Cage Pain Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of rib cage pain is done as follows.

  • Doctors may conduct a physical examination of the chest cavity and lungs to ascertain the condition.
  • A chest X-ray is then performed to detect the seriousness of the condition. The doctor will then use a special camera to locate the position and movement of the tracer.
  • In case your X rays show any abnormal growth then an MRI will be ordered by the doctor. The image from this camera will highlight the abnormalities that are present in the bones. The MRI will show a detailed image of the ribcage which surrounds important organs like the heart, lungs, and other parts.
  • If you have a previous history of bone cancer, or if the doctors suspect an incidence of bone cancer, then a bone scan will be performed. Here, the doctor will inject a radioactive tracer in your body.

What are the Treatments for Rib Cage Pain?

The treatment for rib cage pain primarily depends on the cause of the pain. Rest and immobilization are the best cures that are available for ribcage pain. If the pain is the result of a minor injury like a pulled muscle or so, then a cold compress will be just enough to provide the required comfort.

Do not apply the cold compress directly onto your chest, but place it on your chest region after covering the compress with a clean towel. Having OTC painkillers like Tylenol also helps to provide pain relief in this case.

Prescription medication will be given to you if the home remedies are not working. The prescription will also be effective in case the pain is due to a fracture in the ribs. One such medicine to consider might be Omega XL. It could improve the overall health of your joints.

A compression wrap, which is a tight elastic bandage wound over the chest, will also be done. This wrap splints the area of the chest and holds it in a tight manner to prevent further injury and pain.

But, see that the compression doesn’t become too tight that one experiences difficulty in breathing. This will, in turn, lead to the condition of pneumonia.

If the condition has arisen due to bone cancer, then the physician will try to isolate the location of cancer and then try to remove unwanted growths surgically. If the tumor or growth is too big, then surgical removal becomes an impossibility. In such a case, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is first performed to shrink the size of the tumor. After the tumor has shrunk, then it can be removed by using surgical means.

Expert’s Opinion

According to the literature provided by the US National Library of Medicine, one should seek immediate medical help, if you are not sure about the cause of the pain or if the pain has been going on for a long period of time.

The doctor will examine your complete medical history and will ascertain the cause of the disease, before prescribing a treatment.

You should also religiously follow the instructions of your health care provider to get complete relief from the condition of rib cage pain.

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Evan Jensen, CPT

Evan Jensen is a renowned American Nutritionist, Diet Expert and health writer. He has a master’s degree in journalism, with more

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