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What is rib cage pain?

Rib cage pain can vary in sensation and location, due to several possible causes of the pain. You may be experiencing a sharp pain, or a dull ache, in one of the following areas:

  • At the top, middle (sternum) or bottom of your rib cage
  • Under your right rib cage
  • Under your left rib cage

As well as the initial pain, you may also be experiencing:

  • Tender to touch areas of your chest
  • Shortness of breath, or pain when taking a deep breath or coughing
  • Pressure throughout your chest area
  • Discomfort when in certain positions
  • Pain during exercise

A doctor will need to talk through your symptoms with you in order to identify the cause of your pain, as your rib cage comprises of the ribs themselves and muscles that hold the ribs together, both of which are possible sources of pain.

The rib cage protects vital organs, such as your heart and lungs, which may be contributing to your pain. Talk to one of our online doctors now if you’re concerned about your symptoms.

What are the causes of rib cage pain?

If you think that you are having a heart attack, you should call 999 immediately. The symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain towards the middle and left side of your chest
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Pain throughout your jaw, arms and shoulders
  • Nausea and dizziness

Heart attacks are more common in those aged over 40, particularly in those with underlying heart conditions.

More commonly, rib cage pain can be attributed to:

  • Broken, fractured or bruised ribs – if your pain has come on suddenly, or following an accident or injury, this is a likely cause and worth mentioning to a doctor
  • Pulled or inflamed muscles between the ribs
  • Pleurisy – rib cage pain can often originate from the organs the ribs protect. Pleurisy is the inflammation of the linings of the chest and lungs, causing the two to painfully rub against each other.
  • Lung conditions – illnesses such as bronchitis or pneumonia can sometimes cause rib cage pain, as well as more serious conditions such as lung cancer. Lung cancer is identifiable by other specific symptoms, such as coughing up blood, difficulty breathing and sharp pain upon coughing, sneezing or laughing.

What is costochondritis?

The most common cause of rib cage pain is costochondritis. Costochondritis occurs when the cartilage connecting your ribs to your sternum is inflamed, causing:

  • Pain when breathing deeply, or coughing or sneezing
  • General discomfort in your ribs
  • Pains and aching around your sternum area

Costochondritis isn’t a cause for concern, as it is often due to a minor injury or strain and will heal itself in time. Persistent pain, however, should always be followed up with a doctor.

Talk to one of our doctors today from the comfort of your own home if you’re concerned about your symptoms.

What is Tietze’s Syndrome?

Tietze’s Syndrome is very similar to costochondritis. The main difference between the two conditions is that Tietze’s Syndrome is more localised, and can cause swelling over the affected area.

What causes rib pain during pregnancy?

With all of the changes occurring in your body during pregnancy, it’s hard to tell which aches and pains are normal and which aren’t.

Pregnancy rib pain is common throughout all three trimesters, however particularly during the later stages of pregnancy.

The main causes of rib pain during pregnancy are:

  • Your muscles stretching
  • The baby kicking, or moving near, your ribs

>However, if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should contact a doctor as soon as you can:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Bleeding
  • Seeing spots

These are signs of more serious conditions, like preeclampsia.

Rarely will rib pain during pregnancy be due to something more serious, but you can talk to one of our doctors today if you want to discuss your symptoms.

Should you see a doctor about rib cage pain?

Yes. You should always discuss your symptoms with a doctor when experiencing rib cage pain that you cannot attribute to a recent injury.

There are a number of potential underlying causes of rib cage pain. Many of these causes aren’t serious but may be able to be treated, easing your discomfort.

Other, more serious, causes of rib cage pain, such as lung cancer, are better caught early in order minimise the harm they cause. You can speak to one of our doctors at a time that’s convenient for you to discuss your symptoms.

What are the treatments of rib cage pain?

The treatment you are prescribed will rely entirely on your diagnosis.

For the most part, broken, fractured or bruised ribs cannot be treated and will heal over time. Whilst they heal, it is advised to take pain relief and rest from strenuous activity. You can reduce swelling caused by rib breaks or fractures by applying an ice pack to the area until the swelling subsides.

If your rib pain is caused by an underlying illness, your doctor will explore treatment options specific to your diagnosis. If your doctor suspects you have a serious condition, you may be sent for additional tests.

Our doctors are available 365 days a year to talk to you about your symptoms, and where possible prescribe medication to alleviate your symptoms.