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Back Rib Pain: Causes & Management

About Back Rib Pain:

It is quite common for people to experience back pain at some point in life. However, it is not always that the pain stems from the back. It can also be the back rib that can be at play here. The intensity of the pain ranges from moderate to severe. The cause of back rib pain in most cases is minor and resolves on its own; however, in some cases it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition requiring treatment.[1, 2]

The most common cause of Back Rib Pain is an intercostal strain, although lifting heavy objects, having a poor sitting posture, or repetitively bending forwards also can cause Back Rib Pain. In majority of the cases, the cause is quite benign and simple physical therapy and exercises can relieve the pain by loosening up the muscles.[1, 2] Read below to find out more about the causes of Back Rib Pain and what can be done about it.

What Causes Back Rib Pain?

What Causes Back Rib Pain?

The most common causes of Back Rib Pain include:

Injury: This is by far the most common cause for Back Rib Pain. Falls or exertional activity causing pulled or bruised ribs result in Back Rib Pain. An automobile accident causing rib fractures also can cause severe Back Rib Pain. In such a scenario, an imaging of the injured region will be required to confirm the diagnosis of a rib fracture.[1, 2]

Rest is the key for treatment of rib injuries causing Back Rib Pain to include rib fractures. Taking pain medications also help in calming down inflammation and pain. It is quite rare, although possible, that a surgical intervention is required to treat rib injuries causing Back Rib Pain.[1, 2]

Intercostal Muscle Strain: This is again quite a common cause for Back Rib Pain. The intercostal muscles are located in between the ribs.

These muscles often suffer a tear or a rupture as a result of repetitive strain injury or an extremely strenuous physical activity.[2]

Aside from severe pain in the upper back, intercostal strain also causes severe stiffness in the upper back and muscle spasms. Physical therapy and exercises along with pain medications are the best way to treat intercostal strain.[2]

Osteoporosis: This is a medical condition which makes the bones weak. Osteoporosis is normally seen in females but males also at times have this condition. Osteoporosis makes the bones brittle and weak thus making them vulnerable to fractures, including the bones of the ribs. A rib fracture due to osteoporosis causes pain at Back Rib Pain.[2]

The best way to deal with osteoporosis is to do gentle strength training through yoga or other forms of exercise. It is also important to increase intake of vitamins and calcium to make the bones strong thus decreasing the chances of a fracture.[2]

Fibromyalgia: This is yet another pre-existing medical condition that can cause Back Rib Pain. Fibromyalgia causes intense pain in the muscles and bones. The root cause of this condition is not yet known; however, it is seen more in females than males.[2]

The best way to deal with fibromyalgia is to have ample amount of restful sleep, practicing relaxation techniques, doing regular exercises to keep the muscles and bones strong and supple. There are also certain medications that help calm down the pain caused due to fibromyalgia, including pain in the Back Rib Pain.

Pulmonary Embolism: Back Rib Pain can also be caused due to a potentially serious medical condition called Pulmonary Embolism. This results due to blockage of a blood vessel in the lungs normally by a blood clot. Pulmonary embolism is quite a common condition seen normally in people with a history of DVT. Aside from the pain in the Back of the Ribs, pulmonary embolism also causes coughing, hemoptysis, dizziness, sweating, and problems with breathing.[2]

Immediate treatment is required for pulmonary embolism as it can be life threatening. This is done by administration of anticoagulation medications or blood thinners which make it hard for clots to form. However, long term use of these medications carry the risk of easy bruising and bleeding.[2]

Pleurisy: This is a medical condition in which the lining of the lungs become inflamed. This causes Back Rib Pain along with pain in the chest and shoulders. The treatment fort pleurisy depends on the root cause of the inflammation and is quite variable.[2]

Ways to Manage Back Rib Pain

Stretching and exercises is the mainstay of treatment for mild Back Rib Pain. These exercises will loosen up the intercostal and other muscles that surround the ribs. If ineffective, then physical therapy should be considered for more intense exercise program to stretch and strengthen the muscles and improve pain.[1, 2]

Additionally, a physical therapist can also suggest best postural techniques so as not to put pressure on the upper back and ribs thus relieving pain. For conditions like osteoporosis, pleurisy, or pulmonary embolism, a consultation with a physician is recommended who can design the best treatment possible for Back Rib Pain.[1, 2]


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:December 29, 2020

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