Intercostal Pain

What is Intercostal Pain?

Intercostal pain is a term used to describe pain felt between the ribs or levels of the thoracic cavity. It is a common type of chest pain which is experienced by an individual due to any number of sources, including musculoskeletal injury, torn muscles, pinched nerve, rib fracture or ligament strain.

Causes of Intercostal Pain

Intercostal pain can be caused by a variety of medical conditions, which may involve the costal cartilages, ribs, intercostal muscles, and membranes located between the ribs, which are called intercostal muscles. The most common causes of intercostal pain include the following:

  • Strained or torn muscles in the area due to heavy lifting or a sudden jerking motion
  • Injury to the ribcage area due to a sports activity or accident
  • Costochondritis, a condition in which the joints connecting the ribcage to the sternum become inflamed
  • Rib fracture
  • Pinched nerves
  • A pneumothorax, a collection of air or gas in the space surrounding the lungs
  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Asthma
  • Pleurisy, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs

Symptoms of Intercostal Pain

The symptoms of intercostal pain may vary based on the underlying cause of the pain, but may include any of the following:

  • Sharp, localized pain in the ribcage area
  • Pain that worsens with movement or breathing
  • Tenderness to touch in the affected area
  • Difficulty taking a deep breath
  • Muscle spasm near the affected area
  • Painful creping sensation in the ribcage area while moving
  • Pain in the shoulder blade area

Treatment for Intercostal Pain

The treatment for intercostal pain depends on the underlying cause of the pain. If the pain is caused by a muscle strain or ligament strain, rest and physical therapy are generally recommended to reduce inflammation and facilitate healing.

If the pain is caused by an infection such as a viral or bacterial illness, doctors may recommend antibiotics or other medications to reduce the infection. In cases of pinched nerves, orthopedic surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the affected nerve. In cases of rib fractures or pneumothorax, surgical intervention may also be necessary.