Rib pain during pregnancy: what to do?

back pain in early pregnancy

During pregnancy, the woman faces many episodes of discomfort and various ailments. Among them is the rib pain. It is a source of anxiety and discomfort in everyday life. What are the causes and how to fix it? We tell you all about the rib pain during pregnancy.

Definition and anatomy

Anatomy of the ribs and thoracic region

The ribs are found in the upper part of the trunk, at the level of the thoracic region. They are flat, long, curved in the shape of an arc and oblique downwards. Each attaches to two vertebrae, posteriorly, and to the sternum anteriorly, through the costal cartilages. Some ribs have a free end and are only connected to the vertebrae (floating ribs).

In total, there are 24 ribs. With the sternum and the thoracic vertebrae, they will form the rib cage. The latter is delimited at the top by the cervico-thoracic outlet, and at the bottom by the diaphragm. It contains the lungs and the mediastinum (together formed by the heart, the thymus, the esophagus, the trachea, the nerves, a portion of the aorta and the vena cava). Mainly, its role is to protect them as well as the abdominal organs (for example the diaphragm, the liver, etc.).

Whether in terms of its contents or its containers, the rib cage will not be immune to repercussions of pregnancy.

What changes does a woman's body go through during pregnancy and why?

Disturbance of hormonal flow and increase in the size of the fetus in the uterus are the main factors of changes in women during pregnancy. These affect, among other things, the morphology, the functioning of the organs and the mood. They are felt from the first month and evolve with the rhythm of pregnancy.

Among the most important changes is the one affecting the musculoskeletal system. This concerns in particular the pelvis region, the lumbar region and the thoracic region.

At the level of the pelvis, the transformation aims to relax the muscular and ligamentous tissues in order to already prepare for childbirth. The phenomenon occurs under the influence of relaxin, a hormone secreted by the body at the 2e week of amenorrhea.

At the level of the back, the lumbar lordosis is more accentuated as the months of pregnancy pass. The height and weight of the baby increase which will move the center of gravity of the body of the future mother forward. Thus, the back becomes hollow.

At the level of the thoracic region, the more the belly grows, the more the rib cage widens. The diaphragm will also be pushed up.

What about rib pain during pregnancy?

A rib pain during pregnancy is a painful and unpleasant sensation that is triggered in the ribs.

What is the link between rib pain and pregnancy?

La chest pain and costal happens frequently during pregnancy. The closer the time of delivery approaches, the more the future mother suffers.

The increase in the size of the baby is one of the main causes of this evil. This is explained by the fact that the organs will have less space and the diaphragm will be pushed upwards. Not only will this cause stiffness in the latter, but also in the intercostal muscles. And, this is what causes the pain in the ribs and chest area in pregnant women. This is also the cause of labored breathing.

The baby's regular kicking of the mother's ribs is also an important factor in the rib pain. These will be increased by the seated position and deep inspiration, because of the increase in compression at the ribs.

In the context of shock or trauma in pregnant women, the rib pain corresponds either to a fracture or to a rib sprain. The situation is serious in the event of a fracture, as this can perforate intrathoracic or intra-abdominal organs (such as the liver, spleen, etc.). This may have very bad consequences for pregnancy.

In rare cases, the rib pain during pregnancy can also be linked to damage to underlying organs. If you have pain in your right ribs, it may be due to strain on the liver. And if the pain radiates to the left ribs, we can think of a pathology of the stomach (acid reflux, nausea, vomiting, etc.) or of the spleen. We must also be wary of pre-eclampsia in case of subcostal pain.

What are the solutions to relieve rib pain in pregnant women?

The rib pain usually do not disappear until after childbirth. Thus, so that they do not interfere with the activities of daily living, they must be relieved.

To do this, we use the physiotherapy (physiotherapy). This method consists of working on the breathing and do some kind of meditation. Its purpose is to relax stiff muscles and mobilize the costovertebral region.

Here are some easy and practical methods that can be practiced at home.

  • Make a maximum inspiration so as to inflate and work the abdomen, then hold this inspiration for a few seconds and finally exhale. You can repeat the exercise 10 times, in 2-3 sets 2-3 times a day.
  • Mobilize the rib cage: lie down and extend both arms at the same time or in turns, while inhaling each time.
  • Relax the diaphragm: lie down, bend your knees and put your hands on your stomach. Then, make a slow breathing by inflating the belly. Repeat the process for about ten breaths and in 3 series.
  • Stretch the intercostal muscles: sit down and bring one arm above the head.
  • Use a pregnancy ball to soften the rib cage.
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If rib pain persists,osteopath can help through gentle manipulations adapted to the fetus. They may also recommend a pregnancy pillow to reduce stress on the ribs.

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  • REPAIR SLEEP – This ergonomic maternity pillow, guaranteeing restful sleep, supports your back and hips and allows you to rest comfortably in a side position.
  • MULTIFUNCTION – Thanks to the wooden buttons, this pregnancy pillow can be transformed into a sturdy support for your back. So you can sit back and relax, or raise your legs to relieve swelling.
  • FIRMNESS – The padding consists of 100% siliconized polyester fibres. The positioning cushion therefore has the right level of firmness adapted to your changing needs during pregnancy.

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Finally, the rib pain in pregnant women remains benign except in the context of shock or trauma and eclampsia in rare cases. There are simple and effective exercises to relieve them and make this special period less painful. Anti-inflammatories are contraindicated during pregnancy.


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