Rib pain is usually described as sharp, stabbing pain, and can be very intense. The pain is usually worse on inhalation, and also somewhat on exhalation. Because the ribs attach to the spine, rib pain can also be felt in the back, as well as the sides of the torso. In the front the ribs attach to the sternum, ie: breastbone. and for this reason rib pain in the front of the chest is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack or angina pain.
The 12 pairs of ribs move in an arc, a bit like a bucket handle. On inhalation the handle, or rib lifts upwards, pulled by the action of the breathing muscles. On exhalation the handle or rib moves downwards, back to its resting position. This movement can be impaired by a direct injury to the ribs, as well as issues where the ribs joins the spine in the back, or sternum in front.
There are several types of rib pain, depending on the location of the problem. Costochondritis refers to inflammation of the front of the ribs where they join the sternum. Intercostal neuritis refers to inflammation of the intercostal nerves between the ribs, with pain radiating around the ribs to the front. A costo-transverse sprain in the back where the rib joins the spine is a condition commonly seen in chiropractic clinics. This can be caused by an awkward sleeping position, or possibly a minor strain from the previous day. Spinal conditions such as kyphosis (forward curvature) or scoliosis (sideways curvature) can create strain points at the apex of the curve, and this is where rib strains and sprains commonly occur. A posture brace can help correct and support the upper back, and chiropractic treatment as well as strengthening exercises may help prevent future occurrences.
Rib fracture injuries tend to be very painful, and can take time to fully heal. A rib brace (male and female versions) is advisable to provide support, as breathing causes constant movement and discomfort of the injured ribs. More severe injuries can affect the chest wall and lungs, and this scenario needs to be dealt with as a medical emergency.
For rib pain consultation, diagnosis and treatment, contact us at Blue Vista Health Centre.
Our service area includes Bullaburra, Wentworth Falls, Lawson, Leura, Katoomba, Hazelbrook and the greater Blue Mountains.