Ribs hurt when I press on them: explanations

intercostal neuralgia

Have you ever had ribs hurt when pressed ? The pain was so intense that you rushed to see a doctor urgently?

You weren't completely wrong. Due to their complex anatomy, rib pain can be divided into several types, each being the consequence of a precise pathology.

For a better understanding, the present article will approach explanations concerning the various causes related to the appearance of rib pain as well as different ways to relieve them.

Anatomical reminder


The ribs are long bones of arcuate form, which form with the sternum : the rib cage. The latter represents theosteo-cartilaginous framework whose role is the protection of multiple vital organs: heart, lung, thoracic aorta, etc.


Le rib cage is made up of 24 ribs, so 12 pairs of ribs. These articulate in front with the sternum and back with the vertebrae thoracic.

Each Cote articulates with two vertebrae, in fact they are positioned between the two bodies of the vertebrae, except for the first and the last rib which only touch one vertebrate. There are initially 03 types of ribs.

These are from top to bottom:
• The real ribs, 7 in number and each having its own joint with the sternum.
• The false ribs are 3 in number and are connected to each other by a cartilage, itself connected to the 7th true Cote.
• The floating ribs are 2 in number, they are rather short and do not articulate with the sternum.


The ribs are spaced from each other, this space is called: intercostal space. At its level, are initially inserted the intercostal muscles playing an accessory role in respiration.

Pain in the ribs, what causes

Due to the anatomical complexity of the rib pain, there are several types, each associated with a specific cause.

Bone and joint pain

Fracture and crack

Rib fracture : it is a solution of continuity on the bone with displacement of a bone segment.
rib crack : it is a fracture without displacement.

They usually follow a trauma. For example, in a context ofPublic road accident or the practice of high amplitude sport.

They can also occur on ribs weakened byosteoporosis (decreased bone mass) or metastatic tumorEg.

The pain associated with rib fracture/crack is aggravated by any movement and by palpation. A strict rest of several weeks is recommended in order to restore bone continuity.

Sterno-costal osteoarthritis

Also known as Tietze syndrome,sterno-costal osteoarthritis is an inflammation of the joint connecting the sternum to the ribs.

This inflammation will be responsible foracute chest discomfort with painful palpation of ribs. Nevertheless, it is not responsible for visible deformation and disappears after 02 to 04 weeks.

Intercostal pain

Several causes are possible, as they can affect several structures.

Intercostal neuralgia

She's witness to compression and inflammation of the intercostal nerve at its origin (at the level of the vertebrae). This results in pain along its path.

This pain can be particularly debilitating, like an electric shock or a burn. The cause may be quite benign (contracture of the paravertebral muscles) or more complex (herniated disc...).

Intercostal muscle tears

Slightly more seriously, a rupture of intercostal muscles may occur during exercise beyond the limits of respiratory capacity or during long and violent fits of coughing.

This results in a rib pain which is exacerbated by:

• Respiratory movements.
• Coughing efforts. 
• Sneezing.

Palpation and chest compression also reproduce pain.

The muscles must be given time to heal, which can be relatively long. Treatment of ribcage mobility promotes recovery.

Visceral pain

Finally, pain related to organ damage can be perceived at the level of the rib cage and typically at the level of ribs, although they are not related to an attack of the latter.

Indeed, these pains radiate more widely and are identified by following their topography:

Bar pain in the chest : this pain, called precordialgia, most often signs a cardiac attack.

Rib pain on the left : this pain, when it occurs suddenly, can be the sign of a heart attack or other heart disorder. She may also witness left lung involvement.

Right rib pain : it may be the sign of hepatic (liver), right lung, see in atypical cases, the heart. A suffering of these organs will be manifested by shooting pains in the right ribs.

In this context, we ask you to consult a doctor urgently.

What to do when your ribs hurt?

As a general rule, any rib or chest pain should be seen by a healthcare professional as soon as possible. The goal is to eliminate any etiology that could be life-threatening.

The examination will first look for signs in favor of fractures in the event of trauma, a lung damage ou cardiac a cas de lateralized rib pain To the left or to the right.

The therapies below will only be considered after having been the subject of a medical examination and have averted all danger.

Take painkillers

Medicines available over the counter (such as paracetamol) are effective if you have sore ribs , especially when this pain is exacerbated by breathing.

Please also follow the instructions on the medication leaflet and always consult your doctor before starting an analgesic treatment to relieve your pain.

Apply heat

La thermotherapy to relieve pain, especially when it is of muscular origin (tearing of the intercostal muscles for example) is an ancestral recipe.

Put wet and warm compresses on the sore area for 15-20 min and repeat this for 02-03 days.


Rest is the best medicine to speed up the healing process. Relax while waiting for the complete healing of your ribs, whether bruised, fractured or inflamed.

Avoid all physical activity during recovery, unless directed by your doctor.

Cool the affected area

Le refroidissement of the affected area reduces pain as well as inflammation and accelerates the healing of injured tissues. If you have pain in the ctakes aways by pressing it , apply ice to the affected area and continue this treatment for 2 days.

Resist the urge to replace ice with warm compresses. If you're using an ice pack, don't leave it on for more than 15 or 20 minutes.

Osteopathy for rib pain

Osteopathic care can be offered to patients complaining of rib pain, the cause of which is a rib lock, the patient will typically experience:

– Pain on inspiration.
– Nocturnal pain resistant to the usual analgesics.
– Blockages in the back and/or when mobilizing the shoulders.
– Pain in the upper back or between the shoulder blades.

Personalized manipulations osteopathic will relieve the symptoms of rib pain. It should be noted that the blocked rib is a myth. To know more, see the following article.





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