When Should I Be Concerned About Rib Pain? Symptoms & Causes

Medically Reviewed on 2/10/2022
When Should I Be Concerned About Rib Pain
If your rib pain is severe, unexplained, and accompanied by shortness of breath or lightheadedness, seek medical treatment immediately

Rib pain can have a variety of causes, from pulled muscles to fractured bones. Pain may be sharp, dull, or achy and occur after injury or develop over time. If your rib pain is severe, unexplained, and accompanied by other symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately:

What causes rib pain?

There are many potential causes of rib pain such as injuries, inflammation, infection, cancer, and referred pain coming from organs such as the heart, lungs, spleen, or liver.

In outpatient clinics, musculoskeletal conditions are the most common cause of rib pain. In emergency rooms, serious conditions that mimic rib pain include pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lungs).

The most common causes of rib pain include:

  • Injuries: Trauma or an injury to the ribs, intercostal muscles, or other tissues overlying the ribs is a very common cause of rib pain. Costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that connects the ribs to breastbone) can also be a cause.
  • Infections: Upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, or pneumonia can lead to rib pain. Pain may be caused by the infection itself, a pulled rib muscle from coughing, or pleuritis (inflammation of the pleura) inside the chest wall.

Other conditions that can lead to rib pain include:

How is rib pain diagnosed?

To determine the cause of rib cage pain, your doctor will take your medical history, perform a physical examination, and order different tests. They may ask you about your symptoms such as when, where, and how your pain started and what makes it worse. 

Tests that may be ordered include:

What are treatment options for rib pain?

Treatment of rib pain depends on the underlying cause. In some cases, avoiding activities and movements that aggravate the pain may be all that is needed. Other treatment options include:

  • Musculoskeletal injuries:
    • Pain medications
    • Stretching
    • Physical therapy 
    • Local injections of numbing medication.
  • Pulled muscles:
  • Bone cancer
    • Treatment options depend on the type of cancer and its stage


Medically speaking, the term "myalgia" refers to what type of pain? See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 2/10/2022
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