Got a Pain in Your....Side?
If you’ve been exercising, sick, pregnant, lost significant weight, or have
shingles, you may. Enter here: nonspecific intercostal pain, commonly known as a
side or, rib pain. For most, this injury presents as a dull soreness that may increase
to a constant ache and/or sharp stabbing pain with deep inhalation, twists or
First, let’s look at the function of the muscles in your rib cage. The muscles
attached to your ribs are involved in moving and stabilizing your chest wall during
respiration. Specifically, they are responsible for the expansion and contraction of
your rib cage during breathing; the internal intercostals contract or squeeze the ribs
inwardly during exhalation, and the external intercostals lift the ribs away from the
torso during inhalation. These muscles form a muscular web between our 11 ribs,
and, through them, thousands of nerves run. So, when a muscle is damaged,
overextended or adhesions form within it, the nerves running through the muscle
tissue are impinged upon and, viola, you have a pain in your side! This may create
more muscle tension and limit motion, only exacerbating the condition.
Intercostal strain is usually categorized as to grade levels:
Grade 1: mild injury; minimal damage to muscle fibers; heal time is between 2-3
Grade 2: moderate injury; extensive damage is present, but the muscle is not
completely ruptured; recovery time is between 3-6 weeks.
Grade 3: severe injury; complete muscle rupture; recovery time is more than 6
Given that the injury is not debilitating, suggested treatment methods may
include stretching, yoga postures and breathing exercises to keep the intercostals, as
well as the muscles attached to and surrounding the ribs, loose. If gentler methods
are not working postural assessment, manual manipulation and massage therapy
may be effective in cases where pain is increasing or consistent. If the pain is strong,
and persistent enough, a trip to your general practitioner may be in order, and s/he
will be able to assess the injury, and suggest appropriate treatment depending on
the severity of the injury.