Read below about rib pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your rib pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Rib Pain Symptoms

Rib pain has a variety of causes. Rib pain following traumatic injury may be due to rib fracture, clavicle (collarbone) or sternum (breast bone)fracture, or internal injuries to the chest. [14] Rib pain without traumatic injury may be due to muscle strain, joint inflammation, or chronic pain. [6,15] Rib pain following traumatic injury should prompt emergent medical evaluation, particularly if the pain is severe or interfering with your ability to take a deep breath. Rib pain symptoms due to muscle strain or joint inflammation may be managed at home with rest and over the counter pain medication. However, if pain persists, seek medical treatment as there are systemic illnesses that cause rib pain that require evaluation and treatment by a doctor. [9]

Symptoms that can be associated with rib pain include:

  • Bruising [14]
  • Chest deformity [15]
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath [14]
  • Pain with taking a deep breath [14]
  • Joint pain [4]
  • Depression [9]
  • Difficulty sleeping [9]

Rib Pain Causes Overview

Rib pain, or pain in the chest wall that feels like it comes from a rib, has a variety of causes. Rib pain following any sort of trauma to the chest wall is the most concerning, and is possibly due to a rib fracture, clavicle or sternal fracture, or internal injury to the lungs or other organs in the chest. Seek emergency medical treatment for rib pain following traumatic injury. Rib pain without traumatic injury may be due to muscular strain, joint inflammation, or a pain syndrome of unknown cause. Some systemic illness such as autoimmune disorders or fibromyalgia also cause rib pain. [1]

Rib pain symptoms following trauma:

  • Rib Fracture: Rib fractures are common following trauma to the chest wall and can be extremely painful. Rib fractures usually present with focal pain along a rib and may present with chest deformity or difficulty breathing. It is common for chest wall trauma such as a fall or car accident to cause multiple rib fractures at the same time. [1,2]
  • Clavicle or Sternal Fracture: The clavicle (collarbone) or the sternum (the bone in the center of the chest) can also be fractured due to trauma and causes pain in the chest similar to rib pain. [3,4]
  • Lung Bruising: Trauma to the chest can lead to pulmonary contusion or bruising to the lung tissue. This can cause significant pain to the chest wall that might mimic rib pain. It is possible to have both rib fracture and pulmonary contusion following chest trauma. [2]
  • Internal Injuries: Any significant trauma to the chest wall can result in internal injuries. Chest wall trauma always requires emergent evaluation by a physician to identify and treat injuries. [5]

Musculoskeletal chest pain:

  • Rib Joint Inflammation: There is a junction between the rib bones and the rib cartilage that can become inflamed and cause rib pain or chest pain. The cause of this inflammation and pain is unknown. Costochondritis occurs when the inflammation is at the rib attachments to the sternum. [1,6]
  • Pulled Muscle: There are small muscles in between each rib that can become strained or pulled. Heavy lifting or intense coughing are two common causes of chest wall muscle strain. Strained muscles in the chest can cause pain that feels like rib pain. [1,7]
  • Pain Syndromes: There are several pain syndromes that cause rib pain. A pain syndrome is defined as chronic pain with an unclear cause. Lower rib pain syndrome, Sternalis syndrome, and Tietze syndrome are some examples of pain syndromes that present with rib pain. [8,9]

Other causes:

  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain syndrome that presents with multiple tender points as well as sleep disturbance and depression. Chest pain is common in fibromyalgia and can feel like rib pain. [10,11]
  • Autoimmune disorders: Some autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis present with pain the in the chest. This is often pain at the junction between the rib bone and the rib cartilage and can feel like rib pain. [9]
  • Other systemic Illness: Some less common illness such as lung cancer, breast cancer, or sickle cell disease and present with pain in the chest that feels like rib pain. [12,13]

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Rib Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced rib pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Acute Costochondritis (Chest Wall Syndrome)

    Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone. Pain caused by costochondritis may mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions.

    Costochondritis is generally self-limiting but may take several weeks to go away.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    rib pain, chest pain that is worse when breathing, chest pain, rib pain when moving, pain when pressing on the chest
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  2. 2.Normal Occurence of Chest Pain

    Many people experience chest pain and it's not always indicative of a serious issue.

    1 day

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    chest pain, rib pain
    Symptoms that always occur with normal occurence of chest pain:
    chest pain
    Symptoms that never occur with normal occurence of chest pain:
    being severely ill, shortness of breath, fainting, severe chest pain, crushing chest pain, excessive sweating, nausea or vomiting, fast heart rate in adults, slow heart rate
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  3. 3.Atypical Chest Pain

    Atypical chest pain describes the situation when someone's chest pain is unlikely to be related to heart or lung disease. There are many other possible causes that could explain chest pain, like sore chest wall muscles or psychological factors like stress and anxiety.

    Recovery time depends on the underlying cause.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    chest pain, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with atypical chest pain:
    chest pain
    Symptoms that never occur with atypical chest pain:
    fever
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Chronic Costochondritis (Chest Wall Syndrome)

    Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone. Pain caused by costochondritis may mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions.

    Costochondritis is generally self-limiting but may take several weeks to go away.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    rib pain, chest pain, chest pain that is worse when breathing, rib pain when moving, pain when pressing on the chest
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit

    Rib Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having rib pain.

    Rib Pain Quiz
  5. 5.Bronchitis

    Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. It is typically caused by a virus.

    Symptoms resolve within 1-2 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, productive cough, sore throat, wheezing, coughing up green or yellow phlegm
    Symptoms that always occur with bronchitis:
    cough
    Symptoms that never occur with bronchitis:
    nausea or vomiting
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  6. 6.Rib Bruise or Fracture

    Broken or bruised ribs are usually caused by a fall or a blow to the chest, although occasionally this can happen due to severe coughing. With a broken rib, the pain is worse when bending and twisting the body.

    Improves on its own within 3 to 6 weeks.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    rib pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing, rib pain from an injury, sports injury, rib pain on one side, injury from a common fall
    Symptoms that always occur with rib bruise or fracture:
    rib pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Bacterial Pneumonia

    Bacterial pneumonia is the infection of the lungs with bacteria (as opposed to a fungus or a virus).

    1-3 weeks

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, cough, headache, loss of appetite, shortness of breath
    Symptoms that always occur with bacterial pneumonia:
    cough
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  8. 8.Viral Pneumonia

    Viral pneumonia is inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the lungs due to infection with a virus. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type, which is usually acquired in public areas such as at work, school, or grocery store.

    Symptoms begin to improve within a few days.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, cough, shortness of breath, loss of appetite
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Chest Bruise

    A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the chest are common, given how exposed this area of the body is.

    Bruises begin to heal within one week.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    rib pain, constant rib pain, rib pain from an injury, recent chest injury, bruised chest area
    Symptoms that always occur with chest bruise:
    rib pain from an injury, recent chest injury, constant rib pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Rib Pain Treatments and Relief

Seek emergency treatment if you have rib pain following a traumatic accident, particularly if the pain is severe or interfering with your ability to breathe. Traumatic causes of rib pain will likely require medical imaging to determine the cause of the pain and rule out underlying damage to the lungs or other organs. [14] Some causes of rib pain such as muscular strain or joint inflammation can be treated at home with rest and over the counter pain medication. However, if pain persists, seek medical treatment, as there are multiple systemic illnesses that can present with rib pain symptoms and require evaluation and treatment by a doctor. [1,14]

Seek emergency treatment if:

  • You have been involved in a traumatic accident that included trauma to the chest wall. [14]
  • You are having difficulty taking a deep breath. [14]

Home rib pain treatments include:

  • Over the counter pain killers: If the rib pain is due to a muscle strain or inflammation at the rib cartilage junction, over the counter pain killers such as ibuprofen (NSAID) may help relieve the pain. [14]
  • Rest: If the rib pain is due to muscle strain or inflammation at the rib cartilage junction, rest may help. Refrain from activities that exacerbate the pain for a week or two to allow the inflammation to resolve. [14]

Medical professional rib pain treatments include:

  • Imaging: If you have a traumatic injury and a doctor suspects a rib fracture or other internal injury in the chest, they may order x-rays, ultrasounds, or CT scans to help diagnose the cause of the rib pain. [1]
  • Blood tests: If a doctor suspects that a systemic illness like an autoimmune disorder is the cause of the rib pain, they may order blood tests to help determine the underlying condition. [16]
  • Pain Medication: Trauma to the chest wall that results in rib fracture, other fracture, or pulmonary contusion is particularly painful. A doctor will likely prescribe pain medications to assist with rib pain symptoms during the healing process. [9]

FAQs About Rib Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about rib pain.

How do you know if you have a bruised rib?

It is difficult to discern the difference between a bruised or cracked or broken rib. Generally, a bruised rib and cracked rib follow a blow or pressure to the rib cage, may show bruising on the skin, may be accompanied by a sharp pain on inspiration or breathing in and may also be preceded by a cracking noise. Severe constant shortness of breath after a bruised rib warrants immediate medical attention to exclude an underlying lung injury. [1,14]

Why do my ribs feel bruised for no reason?

The answer to this question depends on which symptom of bruised ribs you are referring to. Sharp pain on inspiration can be a sign of infection and inflammation involving the thin tissues surrounding the lung (pleuritis) [18] or the sac surrounding the heart (pericarditis;) [17] a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism;) [9] a punctured lung (pneumothorax;) [9] or a pneumonia or infection of the lung. [18]

Why do I have pain under my left rib cage?

Pain under the left rib cage may be caused by damage to the spleen because the spleen is on the left side of the body, [19] but pain in that area is more frequently caused by the same conditions that cause pain in the lower chest and upper abdomen on both sides: heart attack, [6] pancreatitis, [18] peptic ulcer disease, [20] gastroesophageal reflux, [1] and gastritis. [21]

What's the difference between a bruised and a broken rib?

A bruised rib is less severe than a fracture. It is an injury to the rib that causes blood and fluid to build up in or around the bone, causing significant discomfort. A broken rib is a break either complete or partial of the cortical region of the bone that causes instability. Generally, if there is evidence of a fracture or gap — however small — it is considered a break, whereas accumulation of fluid in the absence of a break is a bruise. Severe constant shortness of breath after a bruised rib warrants immediate medical attention to exclude an underlying lung injury. [14,15]

Why do I get pain in my ribs when I run?

You may be experiencing pain in your ribs when you run because of a cramp of the muscles that help you expand and contract your chest. There are many theories as to why you have developed a "stitch in your side" while running but no confirmed causes. Explanations range from blood flowing through the liver that blocks blood to the muscles of the chest wall, causing cramping, to pulling of the chest wall in and out causing pain and stiffness. [22]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Rib Pain

  • Q.Do you have a cough?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.What makes your chest pain hurt more?
  • Q.How would you explain why your chest hurts?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our rib pain symptom checker to find out more.

Rib Pain Quiz

Rib Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced rib pain have also experienced:

    • 11% Chest Pain
    • 5% Breast Pain
    • 4% Shortness of Breath
  • People who have experienced rib pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 48% Less Than a Day
    • 23% Less Than a Week
    • 14% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced rib pain were most often matched with:

    • 50% Atypical Chest Pain
    • 25% Acute Costochondritis (Chest Wall Syndrome)
    • 25% Normal Occurence of Chest Pain
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having rib pain

Rib Pain Quiz

References

  1. Rib Pain. Aurora Health Care. Aurora Health Care Link.
  2. Rib Fracture. Fairview Health Services. Fairview Health Services Link.
  3. Kang O, Knipe H, et al. Sternal Fracture. Radiopaedia. Radiopaedia Link.
  4. Clavicle (Collarbone) Fractures. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link.
  5. Collins J. Chest Wall Trauma. Journal of Thoracic Imaging. 2000;15(2):112-119. NCBI Link.
  6. Costochondritis. Fairview Health Services. Fairview Health Services Link.
  7. Hillenbrand A, Henne-Bruns D, Wurl P. Cough Induced Rib Fracture, Rupture of the Diaphragm and Abdominal Herniation. World Journal of Emergency Surgery. 2006;1:34. NCBI Link.
  8. Scott EM, Scott BB. Painful Rib Syndrome - A Review of 76 Cases. Gut. 1993;34(7):1006-1008. NCBI Link.
  9. Phillips K, Schur PH. Treatment of Muscoloskeletal Chest Pain. Ultra Medica. Updated April 17, 2012. Ultra Medica Link.
  10. What Does Costochondritis Pain Feel Like? Fibromyalgia Symptoms. Fibromyalgia Symptoms Link.
  11. Fibromyalgia. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA Link.
  12. Serjeant GR, Ceulaer CD, Lethbridge R, Morris J, Singhal A, Thomas PW. The Painful Crisis of Homozygous Sickle Cell Disease: Clinical Features. British Journal of Haematology. 1994;87(3):586-591. NCBI Link.
  13. Symptoms of Metastatic Breast Cancer. National Breast Cancer Foundation. NBCF Link.
  14. Broken or Bruised Ribs. NHS. Updated December 15, 2017. NHS Link.
  15. Rib Injuries. BetterHealth Channel. Updated June 2011. BetterHealth Channel Link.
  16. Autoimmune Diseases. AACC: LabTestsOnline.org. Updated October 15, 2018. LabTestsOnline.org Link.
  17. Tingle LE, Molina D, Calvert CW. Acute Pericarditis. American Fmaily Physician. 2007;76(10):1509-1514. AAFP Link.
  18. Thompson EG, Romito K, Husney A. Pleurisy. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated December 6, 2017. UofM Health Link.
  19. Spleen Problems and Spleen Removal. NHS. Updated January 6, 2016. NHS Link.
  20. GERD: Non-Cardiac Chest Pain. Cleveland Clinic. Updated June 25, 2015. Cleveland Clinic Link.
  21. Gastritis. BetterHealth Channel. Updated August 2014. BetterHealth Channel Link.
  22. Morton D, Callister R. Exercise-Related Transient Abdominal Pain (ETAP). Sports Medicine. 2015;45:23-35. NCBI Link.