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What causes rib pain and what to do

Rib pain is uncommon and is usually related to kicks to the chest or ribs, which can occur due to traffic accidents or impacts when playing some more violent sports such as Muay Thai, MMA or Rugby, for example.

However, rib pain may also be a sign of a respiratory problems, and in more severe cases, it may indicate cancer or even a heart attack. So whenever the pain is too intense or takes more than 2 days to relieve, it is advised to go to a general practitioner to identify the cause and begin the most appropriate treatment.

What causes rib pain and what to do

1. Trauma in the ribs

This is the main cause of rib pain that usually occurs due to falls, traffic accidents or sports, resulting in constant pain in the ribs, purple spots and difficulty in moving the torso. In most cases, the trauma is mild and causes only a stretch in the muscles, but there are other situations where fractures may occur.

What to do: It is recommended you rest to allow the muscles to recover. However, you can also apply cold patches on the affected area, especially if there are purple spots on the area. If the pain is very intense and prevents breathing or if there is a suspicion of fracture, it is very important to go to the hospital to have an X-ray and start treatment. 

2. Costochondritis

Costochondritis is the most common cause of rib pain when there is no specific cause, such as a chest trauma. It occurs due to the inflammation of the cartilages that attach the upper ribs to the sternum bone, and it is therefore common to feel intense sensitivity in the region between the nipples, especially when pressing on the region.

What to do: In many cases the symptoms improve after 2 or 3 days with rest and applying of hot patches in the region, but painkillers such as Naproxen or anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen, preferably prescribed by a general practitioner 

3. Pleurisy

Pleurisy is an inflammatory problem that affects the pleura, a thin layer of tissue that lines the lungs and the interior of the thoracic region. In these cases, it is common for the pain to be more intense upon inhaling as it is when the lungs fill with air and the inflamed tissue scrapes the surrounding organs.

What to do: It is important to go to the hospital to start antibiotic treatment directly into the vein and relieve inflammation. In addition, respiratory physiotherapy may still be required for up to 2 weeks.

What causes rib pain and what to do

4. Fibromyalgia 

Fibromyalgia is a type of chronic pain that can affect different parts of the body, but does not yet have a specific cause, and can occur at any age, especially between 30 and 60 years. Typically, pain is attributed to fibromyalgia when all exams are done and it is not possible to identify another cause for rib pain.

What to do: There is no specific way to treat fibromyalgia, however, some techniques like acupuncture, physical therapy or investing in a diet richer in omega 3 can help improve your quality of life. See the main forms of treatment for fibromyalgia.

5. Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolism, although rare, is a serious condition that occurs when an artery in the lung is blocked by a clot and can cause serious injury, with symptoms such as severe breathing pain, shortness of breath, rapid breathing, coughing up blood and excessive sweating.

What to do: If pulmonary embolism is suspected, it is important to go to the hospital quickly, as treatment must be started to remove the clot from the lung and allow the blood to flow freely again.

6. Lung Cancer

Although it is the rarest cause, the onset of pain in the chest region near the ribs can also be a sign of lung cancer. In these cases, the pain is more intense when taking a deep breath and other signs such as wheezing, coughing up blood, back pain and weightlessness can occur.

What to do: The treatment for cancer should be started as soon as possible to ensure the best chances of cure, so if there is a suspicion of cancer it is very important to make an appointment with the pulmonologist.

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