Rib pain can have many possible causes, and there is it's sometimes difficult to get an accurate diagnosis quickly. First, let's take a look at some of the obvious ones: rib pain causes from injuries.
Fractured (Broken) or Cracked Ribs – These are usually pretty easy to diagnose because the pain is severe and sharp. Many people say a fractured rib produces some of the worst pain there is. When you have a fractured or broken rib, you usually know how you got it: sometimes a blow to the body during athletic competition, an auto accident, or a fall. Painful breathing is a typical symptom. The injured area is likely to be extremely sensitive, and any movement involving the arms or torso will cause discomfort.
Cartilage Injury – Cartilage is the soft material connecting your breastbone to your ribs. It allows your ribcage to be flexible and somewhat shock-absorbent. When this cartilage is damaged, it will feel like a rib injury. Cartilage damage in your chest will cause pain when you're breathing, laughing or coughing.
Soft Tissue Damage – Soft tissues like muscles, tendons and ligaments are spread around the rib cage. These can be injured or damaged by a sharp blow, or even by trying to lift or push something that's too heavy. The result is rib pain which may make breathing or moving uncomfortable.
Bone and Joint Conditions
Joint inflammation – When joints near the ribs become inflamed, the pain can feel like it's happening in your ribcage. Joint inflammation becomes fairly common in middle age and beyond due to the two following conditions.
Osteoarthritis – Cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone and backbone wears out with age. The resulting infection causes pain.
Rheumatoid Arthritis – When you have this disease, your body's immune system attacks itself. When this happens in joints and connections around the ribs, it causes pain in the ribs.
Rib Pain Caused by Lung Conditions and Diseases
There are a number of diseases related to the lungs that cause ribcage pain. These include:
Pleurisy – The lining between the lungs and the ribcage is known as the pleura. When it becomes infected, the inflammation causes pain in the ribs. When you have a bad case of pleurisy, just breathing in and out can be very uncomfortable.
Pneumonia – Rib pain is typical when you have pneumonia. Coughing, laughing, breathing, sneezing can all be painful.
Tuberculosis – Painful ribs is one of the many symptoms of tuberculosis, along with coughing, fever and fatigue.
Ribcage Pain and Lung Diseases
Several types of cancer can cause pain in the ribs or ribcage area. The most common of these include lung cancer and multiple myeloma.
Rib pain is a symptom in approximately 80 percent of multiple myeloma cases. Many lung cancer patients also experience various kinds of rib pain, sometimes including the area of the upper back.
Rib pain is often symptomatic in several lung diseases related smoking or extended exposure to pollutants. Mesothelioma and asbestosis lead the list in this category.
Asbestosis is a non-cancerous buildup of scar tissue located in the lower half of the lungs. It results from long term exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma is also often caused by prolonged asbestos exposure, which damages the pleural lining of the lungs and sometimes the pericardial lining of the heart.
Various Other Causes of Rib Pain
The following causes for pain in the ribs fit into the "miscellaneous" category:
Gallbladder problems like gallstones or a gallbladder attack
Nerve issues (especially caused by damage to the spinal column)
Shingles, which often starts with acute pain in the ribcage area of the torso before erupting into an extremely uncomfortable rash
Abuse of steroids
Stress and anxiety that causes deep breathing that sometimes over stretches or strains the muscles around the ribcage.
Chest pain from angina is also a possibility. Angina is a classic symptom of heart disease.
Obviously, there are dozens of diseases, disorders and conditions that can cause rib pain. While some are very minor and resolve on their own with time, some can be very serious. If your rib pain lasts for more than a few days, or seems to be growing in severity, it would be a good idea to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.