Back Pain Around Rib: Causes and Treatments

The ribs are attached to the spine in the back by several soft tissue attachments. Pain from the ribs can often be interpreted as back pain even though the source is the ribs. Pain in the back along the ribs can be prevented by knowing the possible causative conditions. Some simple exercises and acupuncture can help to relieve the pain.

Symptoms of Back Rib Pain


Rib pain is not isolated to any specific age group or population cohort. A variety of types of pain can result from the ribs. Some describe the pain as tearing, ripping, stabbing, lancinating, aching, soreness, tenderness or gnawing in character. The intensity of the pain does not always point to the cause and mild pain can be serious. On the other side, serious pain can be from minor irritation of muscles or nerves in the chest wall or back.


Determining the precise cause of rib pain requires an expert medical evaluation. It is imperative to determine if the pain is arising from a rib or another structure in the chest, abdomen or back. Both a heart attack and collapsed lung (pneumothorax) can result in rib pain, chest pain and back pain. Unexplained sudden pain requires immediate medical evaluation and 911 should be contacted promptly. Symptoms such as crushing chest pain, shortness of breath or a sense of impending doom often signify a serious and life-threatening process is occurring.

Causes of Back Rib Pain

1. Muscle Strain

Muscles of the chest wall, including the intercostals (between ribs), can be easily strained. Simple acts of moving object can cause immediate or delayed pain. Symptoms can be felt as an ache or sharp pain when moving or twisting. A single event or repetitive use can strain muscles.

2. Cartilage Inflammation

The ribs are connected to the sternum (breastbone) by a row of cartilage. This cartilage can become inflamed from overuse or illness. The medical term is costochondritis or Tietze's syndrome. This condition can occur in any age group, but older patients must have a medical evaluation to exclude a more serious cause. The pain can be sharp and intense. Treatment is straightforward and geared towards alleviating inflammation by using OTC non-steroidal medications, applying ice and modifying physical activity.

3. Fracture

Rib fractures cause a nagging pain that may last 6 weeks or more. Fractures generally occur due to an injury or blow to the chest. A single rib fracture is painful enough, but multiple rib fractures can impair the ability to breathe. Compression fractures of the spine can also result in back rib pain and result from a fall, old age and osteoporosis.

4. Rib Subluxation or Vertebral Subluxation

When the bones of the spine (vertebrae) become misaligned pain can develop. Doctors call this subluxation and it can be treated with rest, physical therapy or chiropractic care. The ribs can also become misaligned impairing motion, breathing and causing pain in the back and chest. Occasionally a subluxated rib will reposition itself and resolve the problem.

5. More Serious Causes

A heart attack or tearing of the large blood vessel on top of the heart (aorta) can result in back, chest or rib pain. Blood clots can form in the lung and cause painful breathing that is felt as rib pain. Inflammation of the gallbladder can cause back pain, rib pain and pain that radiates to the back shoulder. Any of these causes can be serious and life threatening and require immediate emergency care.

6. Other Causes

Shingles is a painful rash related to a prior varicella (chickenpox) infection. In this condition a blistery painful rash will erupt in a strip along the chest wall or back on only one side. The pain can be intense and may last well beyond the resolution of the rash. If caught in time, a doctor can prescribe medication to speed the resolution of the rash and painful symptoms.

Relief for Back Rib Pain

For rib pain relief, watch this video and learn some simple self-care techniques. Myofascial release is an effective technique to alleviate rib pain.

For back pain follow this excellent acupressure technique. These simple yet effective self-care techniques will provide a release of your body's natural endorphins and experience pain relief immediately.

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