Rib pain is not always caused by a rib injury. There are also a number of illnesses that trigger rib discomfort, which means it can sometimes be difficult to determine the source of the problem. In this article, we’ll cover some that are obvious, but we’ll also endeavor to describe some rib pain causes that are not widely known to the general public.
Let’s look at rib injuries first.
Fractured (Broken) or Cracked Ribs – Very often, you don’t even need an x-ray to diagnose a cracked or broken rib (your doctor will undoubtedly order one nonetheless). The pain from this type of rib injury can be intense and very severe. Pain from a cracked is broken rib can be so intense that many people say it’s the worst pain they’ve ever felt. Rib fractures occur most often because of athletic competition, a fall or an auto accident. The simple act of drawing a breath becomes uncomfortable and possibly even painful. Any movement of the upper body will probably produce sharp pain. The injured area will probably also be sore and sensitive to touch.
Cartilage Injury – Cartilage is the tissue that connects your ribs to your sternum (breastbone). Cartilage is flexible but tough tissue that makes it easier for your chest to expand and contract when you breathe. It also makes it possible – up to a point – for your ribcage to absorb the shock of a blow. When you have cartilage damage, the pain feels similar to the pain of a cracked rib. Laughing and coughing will cause discomfort. Taking a deep breath will hurt, and an unexpected sneeze can be particularly unpleasant.
Soft Tissue Damage – Your chest and back include dozens of soft tissue formations that circumvent your ribcage: your ligaments, tendons and muscles. These can be stretched, strained or torn in any number of ways: you may try to lift, push or pull something that’s too heavy for you. An injury can also result from repeating the same motion for a long time (knwon as a “repetitive motion injury”) The resulting pain can easily be mistaken for rib pain or rib damage.
Conditions, disorders and diseases of the bones and joints may also cause rib pain. Some of the more common include the following.
Joint inflammation – Few of us are lucky enough to completely escape some form of joint inflammation or irritation as we get older. Anytime a joint near the ribcage becomes inflamed, it may seem like the pain is originating in the ribcage itself. There are two conditions that are especially common.
Osteoarthritis – There are many places in the body that can be affected by osteoarthritis, including the area where the ribs connect to the sternum and the spine.
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.
In addition to the injuries and disorders mentioned above, there are several other disorders that may cause rib pain. They include:
Pleurisy – Pleurisy is an infection of the lining between the lungs and the ribcage (known as the pleura). When this lining becomes inflamed, it causes pain which can sometimes be very intense. When you have pleurisy, simply inhaling and exhaling can hurt – and hurt a lot.
Pneumonia – Generalized rib pain and discomfort in the chest area is one of the symptoms of pneumonia. Anything that involves movement in the upper torso can be painful, especially laughing, coughing or sneezing.
Tuberculosis – Pain in the ribs is also a common indication of tuberculosis. Other symptoms include fatigue, fever and coughing.
A variety of cancers can produce discomfort and pain in the ribcage area (both in the front and back). Lung cancer and multiple myeloma are at the top of this list. Approximately 80 percent of myeloma patients report ribcage pain as one of their symptoms.
Patients suffering from mesothelioma or asbestosis are likely to complain of pain in the ribs, as is anyone who has a lung problem related to smoking or long term exposure to environmental pollutants.
Here’s a quick description of a number of other medical illnesses that have been known to trigger rib pain.
* Gallbladder problems like gallstones or a gallbladder attack.
* Spinal or other nerve-related injuries and disorders. The disease known as “shingles” is included in this category because it often starts with pain in the rib and torso area before progressing to a skin rash.
* Individuals who abuse steroids often experience rib pain after long term use.
* People who are under a great deal of stress are more prone to rib pain because they often take deep, heavy breaths. This type of breathing may strain the network of muscles around the ribs..
Lastly, there’s angina, which is a medical term for chest pain experienced by those with heart problems. Angina can easily be mistaken for rib pain.
It’s plain to see that there is a wide variety of possible causes for rib pain. Some can cause a lot of discomfort but pose no serious long term threat to your health. Others are very dangerous.
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.