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BACK & RIB PAIN

Rib Pain from Coughing: Causes & Treatments

December 9, 2019

Symptom Guides > Other Symptoms > Rib Pain from Coughing: Causes & Treatments

by

Dr. Edo Paz

Edo Paz is VP Medical and Lead Physician at K Health. Dr. Paz has two degrees in chemistry from Harvard and an MD from Columbia University. He did his medical training in internal medicine and cardiology at New York-Presbyterian. In addition to his work at K Health, Dr. Paz is a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, a cardiology practice located in New York City.

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You probably don't give your ribs much thought as you go through your day, but if they are causing you pain they can be hard to ignore. If you've ever had a bout of coughing accompanied by pain in your ribs, you know how distracting rib pain can be. Some conditions, like colds, flu, or asthma, can cause you to cough frequently, and when this triggers rib pain, it can disrupt your daily life. If your ribs often hurt when you cough, you probably want to know why this is happening, and how you can ease the pain.

 

This article will answer these questions, as well as:

• Can Severe Coughing Cause Rib Pain?
• Can You Pull a Muscle in Your Ribs from Coughing?
• How Do I Stop My Ribs from Hurting When I Cough?

Can Severe Coughing Cause Rib Pain?

It is very common to feel pain in your ribs during coughing. Pain can be felt on the right side under the ribs and also on the left side under the ribs.

 

Possible causes of rib pain include:

 

  • Cold, flu, and other respiratory infections

 

  • Physical injury, including repeated trauma from coughing

 

 

You can learn in-depth about possible causes of rib pain in this article, or download K Health to discover what might be causing your symptoms.

Can You Pull a Muscle in Your Ribs from Coughing?

If you feel a sharp pain when you cough, this can be a sign that you have strained one of the muscles that connect neighboring ribs, called intercostal muscles. Your intercostal muscles lie between your ribs and attach them to one another. They also stabilize your upper body and help you breathe. The repeated forceful movement that results from coughing can cause these muscles to stretch, pull, or partially tear.

 

If you think you’ve pulled a muscle when coughing, make an appointment with your doctor to check it out further. Your doctor will be able to make sure your symptoms are not caused by something else, and review some of the important treatments for this problem.

 

Any of the following symptoms could indicate that you have strained one of your intercostal muscles:

 

  • Rib pain that gradually worsens after repetitive movements, such as swimming, lifting, or other physical exercises

 

  • Stiffness and tension in your back muscles

 

  • Muscle rigidity when you bend or twist your upper body

 

  • Sharp pain in your upper back or in the general area of your ribs

 

  • Severe pain that comes on suddenly, particularly if caused by a blow to your chest or back

 

  • Severe pain when you cough, sneeze or breathe deeply

 

  • Spasms of the intercostal muscles in your ribs. Muscle spasms can range in intensity from mild twitches to severe pain. You may be able to visibly see your muscles twitching.

 

  • Tenderness in the area between your ribs

How Do I Stop My Ribs from Hurting When I Cough?

If your ribs hurt from coughing and you’re in a good deal of pain, there is no need to suffer in silence. Here are some things you can try that might alleviate the pain:

 

  • Painkillers: Regular over-the-counter pain medications, like Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen, can provide relief from rib pain.

 

  • Compression: For fast relief from sudden, unpredictable coughing, firmly press a small pillow or cushion against your chest in the area that hurts the most. This relieves pressure on the muscles and can ease the pain.

 

  • Cough with care: When you feel a coughing fit coming on, sit in a chair and lean forward slightly. Press your arm against your belly and cough sharply a couple of times into a tissue. Relax for a moment and then do it again. If the coughing hurts, press a pillow against your belly while you do it.

 

  • Heat: Apply a heating pad over the sore area to ease pain and soothe your strained rib muscles.

 

  • Cold: Applying a cold compress, or even a bag of frozen peas, to the sore area can also give a lot of relief.

 

  • Treat your cough: If your cough is caused by a cold, flu, or upper respiratory infection, try to treat the cough directly by having regular warm drinks, using cough drops, or adding a teaspoon of honey into your tea. Cough suppressants, decongestants, and steam-inhalation can also help improve your cough.

 

 

What Helps a Pulled Muscle from Coughing?

 

Intercostal muscles are involved in such basic activities as breathing, so a strain can be extremely painful, especially if you are coughing on a regular basis. As every cough can worsen the pain, you will want to try and get some relief. The following methods might help:

 

  • Apply an ice pack to your chest

 

  • Use heat therapy, such as a warm bath, heating pads, or adhesive heat wraps

 

  • Limit physical activity for a few days to allow time for your muscles to recover

 

  • Take OTC pain medications

 

  • Splint the area by holding a pillow against the injured muscle

 

Your doctor may order the following treatments to further ease your symptoms:

 

  • Muscle relaxants
  • Physical therapy (PT)

 

If symptoms persist for a long time and nothing you have tried is giving you relief, or if you are also having difficulty breathing, seek medical attention as soon as possible to get a proper diagnosis.

 

Learn more about the causes of Rib Pain.

 

Is your coughing causing you rib pain? Get advice from a doctor.

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"If your ribs often hurt when you cough, you probably want to know why this is happening, and how you can ease the pain."

Chat with a doctor about your rib pain. Download K.

by

Dr. Edo Paz

Edo Paz is VP Medical and Lead Physician at K Health. Dr. Paz has two degrees in chemistry from Harvard and an MD from Columbia University. He did his medical training in internal medicine and cardiology at New York-Presbyterian. In addition to his work at K Health, Dr. Paz is a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, a cardiology practice located in New York City.

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