What Causes Rib Pain and How to Treat It

What causes rib pain?

Rib pain is caused due to compression of blood vessels in the lower part of your body. This is because when you are lying down or sitting, there is no space between your ribs and chest wall. When you stand up, the pressure from your legs presses against these arteries causing them to constrict and cause rib pain. The most common location where this happens is in the front of your upper torso (rib cage).

The reason why it occurs in the front of your upper torso is because the muscles that support your rib cage are located just above your navel. If they were not supported by these muscles, then you would have a very different situation.

You could feel a sharp stabbing pain in the center of your chest when standing up, but if you look closely, you will see that it does not hurt anywhere else than in the center of your chest.

Causes of Rib Pain:

1) Sitting with Your Chest High On Your Shoulders – This is one of the major causes of rib pain.

It is very difficult to lie down without having your chest high on your shoulders. Also, it is very hard to stretch out your arms while sitting upright.

So, when you sit like this, the pressure from your upper body pushes against the ribs causing them to tighten and cause rib pain.

2) The Wrong Mattress – An improper sleeping position can also trigger rib pain.

Especially if you sleep on your side and do not have the right kind of mattress. An improper or thin mattress will cause the shoulder to sink in too much, which forces the upper body weight to push against the ribs causing rib pain.

3) Pregnancy – Another common cause of rib pain is pregnancy.

During pregnancy the body goes through a lot of changes. The increased weight of the baby, as well as the enlarged uterus, pushes against the rib cage causing rib pain.

It is common for pregnant women to have some degree of rib pain during their pregnancy.

4) Body Mass Index – The higher your body mass index or BMI the more likely you are to experience rib pain when standing up.

This is due to the fact that obese people tend to have too much fat around their midsection.

5) Slouching – Another common cause of rib pain is a desk job.

Sitting at a desk all day tends to make people slump, or lean back in their chair. It also causes them to have their chest high on their shoulders.

All these body postures increase the pressure against the chest causing rib pain.

6) Tight Shoulders – Another common cause of rib pain is tight shoulders.

When your shoulders are too tight they tend to pull backward. This puts pressure on the front part of your rib cage and can cause rib pain.

7) Sleeping On Your Stomach – Most people that have a problem with rib pain sleep on their stomach.

This is primarily due to the fact that it is difficult to sleep on your side if you have this condition. The cause of this is the tightness in the shoulders which forces the upper body weight towards your chest.

Sleeping on your stomach prevents this from occurring.

Treatment for Pain Caused by Standing Up:

1) Stand Upright With Hands On Hips – The first thing you should do is to stand up with your hands on your hips.

Then, while keeping your hands on your hips, take a deep breath and gently push your upper body forward. This should give your ribs enough space to ensure they do not get compressed.

2) Sleeping On Your Stomach – Another common way to treat pain caused by standing up is to sleep on your stomach.

If you have a thin mattress, then you should place a few pillows underneath your belly to prop it up a bit. This reduces the pressure on your back and helps redistribute the weight that is pushing down on it.

Treatment for Pain Caused by Sitting:

1) Mattress Replacement – The cause of pain caused by sitting is an improper mattress.

Typically, an improper mattress will be too thin to provide adequate back support. Also, the typical mattress that comes with a bed frame is just too thin to be of any real benefit.

You can fix this problem by simply replacing your old mattress with a thicker one.

2) Use A Lumbar Cushion – The lumbar region of your back is located in the small of it, right at the base.

If you are experiencing pain here then you should use a small pillow or lumbar cushion to provide extra support. This will take some pressure off that area and help to eliminate the pain.

3) Use A Body Pillow – Another way to eliminate pain caused by sitting is to use a body pillow.

This should be placed behind your back and lower back. This will keep your spine in a more natural position and take some of the pressure off the spinal discs.

Treatment for Pain Caused by Sleeping:

1) Use A Wedge – Another common cause of rib pain is sleeping on your stomach.

If you find yourself doing this often then you should use a small body pillow, or wedge, to prop your upper body up. This will help to take pressure off your ribs and alleviate the pain you are experiencing.

2) Use A Body Pillow – Another cause of pain caused by sleeping is due to your spine being in an unnatural position.

If you are experiencing pain while in a fetal position then you should try changing to your side. If the pain persists then you should try sleeping on your back.

If this doesn’t work then you should try using a body pillow to keep your spine in a more natural position.

3) Use A Lumbar Cushion – If you find yourself experiencing back pain while sleeping then you should try using a lumbar cushion.

This will take some pressure off of the small of your back and keep your spine in a more natural position.

Other Causes of Pain:

Dehydration – If you are severely dehydrated then you could experience any of the above pains, possibly even all of them. The cause of this pain is your body’s reaction to being denied vital moisture.

The easiest way to get rid of this pain is to drink some water.

Pain Caused by Physical Activity:

If you do any sort of physical activity, such as lifting, running or even playing sports, then you could experience pain in the areas that are used. This pain will typically subside shortly after you finish your physical activity.

If the pain persists for a long time then you should consult a physician.

You can get rid of the pain caused by over exertion by properly cooling down and hydrating yourself.

2) Pain Caused by Digestive Problems:

If you experience pain anywhere in your body, then digestive problems could be the cause. Typically, this pain will subside shortly after eating.

If it persists past this time then you should see a physician immediately.

Your physician will give you medication to alleviate the pain until your digestive problem is fixed. This could be anything from a mild stomach virus all the way up to cancer; it just depends what’s causing the problem.

A Word on Painkillers:

Painkillers are not very effective when used regularly. Typically, they only work for the first couple of times that you use them.

After this, your body builds up a resistance to them and they no longer have any effect. If you experience a lot of pain then you should go see your physician immediately.

Sources & references used in this article:

Cervical rib: a method of anterior approach for relief of symptoms by division of the scalenus anticus by AW Adson, JR Coffey – Annals of Surgery, 1927 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov

Congenital anomalies associated with thoracic outlet syndrome: anatomy, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment by DB Roos – The American Journal of Surgery, 1976 – Elsevier

Scalenectomy versus first rib resection for treatment of the thoracic outlet syndrome by RJ Sanders, JW Monsour, WF Gerber, WR Adams… – Surgery, 1979 – surgjournal.com

Transaxillary approach for first rib resection to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome. by DB Roos – Annals of Surgery, 1966 – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov