Intercostal Muscle Strain

Pulled muscles of the chest

An intercostal muscle strain can be really painful. If you are a fairly active person, your ribs can take a beating in your day to day life. It is a strain of the muscles that lie in between the ribs. While any muscle in the body can be strained, muscle pressures throughout the chest area can be very painful. Considering that the lungs are housed in the ribcage, the pain can likewise be severe even with just breathing. Some people even believe they might have broken a rib and your doctor might even provide you the same treatment for a strain as a fracture. Following your doctor’s suggestions can help your recovery.

What Causes Intercostal Muscle Strain?

You have 11 various groups of muscles in your ribcage. The intercostal spaces have about 3 different layers of muscle that are connected to the ribs. They help keep your chest steady with motion and hold your ribs together and in place. While they have the ability to move and extend a good deal, they do have their limits. The causes of pressures in this area are:

1. Blow to the Chest Wall

If you receive a direct blow to your chest, it is possible to suffer a strain to the rib muscles. This can occur with car mishaps, injury while playing sports (football, karate, hockey), injuries received at work, or an assault (battle).

2. Twisting of the Upper Body

Twisting the upper body over its limitations can strain the intercostal muscles. It can also “overstretch” the muscles and put pressure on the ribcage. This includes yoga postures, dance relocations, turning around suddenly to see something behind you, battling, and other things that make you twist your chest area.

3. Arm Swinging with Force

If you swing your arm too far, it stretches the ribs towards the arm that is swinging. This can be aggravated by twisting the lower half of your body far from the arm swing. It can even cause the muscles to tear with adequate force.

4. Over Stretching

Even in gentle extending, you can strain or perhaps rupture the muscles in the ribs. Extending and pulling the ribs apart too far can cause the intercostal nerves to end up being caught between the ribs and muscles. This results in severe convulsions and nerve pain along with the strain. This type prevails with some sport activities, such as tennis, golf, beach ball and badminton, where you need to reach high and put in force with the chest.

Symptoms of Intercostal Muscle Strain

The symptoms include pain, inflammation, swelling, muscle tightness, and sometimes shortness of breath. These can often be the exact same as something more serious, so it’s crucial to be assessed by a doctor before trying self-treatment at home. The breakdown of the symptoms are as follows:


  • Abrupt tearing pain in the rib muscles
  • Pain tends to be sharp, shooting and extremely extreme
  • Tenderness when the ribs are touched or pushed on (chest wall pain).
  • Very severe and consistent pain.
  • Pain that intensifies with movement, twisting, coughing and sneezing.
  • Pain that disappears by itself in moderate strains within one or two days.


  • Tenderness can be felt just over the ribs, rather of inside the chest.
  • Painful bruising.
  • Failure to use tight clothing on upper body.
  • Painful to turn over in bed or get up and down from a chair.


  • Swollen areas where the injury happened.
  • Hematoma (swollen area filled with blood).
  • Swollen ribs in the exact same side as injury.

Muscle Tightness

  • During pain and swelling, the muscles in the chest wall may feel tight.
  • Tightness has the tendency to be most severe in the area of the injury.
  • Taking a deep breath might feel difficult.
  • It may be tough to move the chest area and even the arms.

Shortness of Breath

  • It may be hard to breathe without pain.
  • Breaths end up being more shallow in an effort to avoid pain.
  • Muscles might feel too tight to permit sufficient air in.

How to Cope with Intercostal Muscle Strain

There are things you can do at home to make your recovery quickly and comfortable. Try these suggestions:

1. Incapacitate the Ribs

Use ace wraps to cover the chest and provide the ribs some compression. Just do this for the first few days and make sure it’s not too tight so that breathing is impeded.

2. Alternate Hot and Cold

Use an ice bag for the first day and after that start alternating hot packs with ice bags. The ice will lower the inflammation and swelling quickly and the heat will promote blood flow to the area and boost healing. After the first day, alternate a heating pad with ice packs four times a day.

3. Take Deep Breathing

You are naturally going to take more shallow breaths with rib pain. This can cause pneumonia and slow down recovery time due to minimized oxygen to the hurt muscles. Try these steps to increase your breathing:

  • Breathe in gradually and open your lungs as much as you can. Hold the breath for a couple of seconds and breathe out gradually.
  • To avoid pneumonia, attempt to do these exercises at least when every hour.
  • Attempt not to smoke if you have a rib injury. Smoking can make you more prone to pneumonia and lung issues.

4. Attempt Epsom Salt Soaks

One method to alleviate an intercostal muscle strain rapidly is to take in Epsom salts. These are magnesium salts that can alleviate muscle pain. Fill your tub with warm water and include one to two cups of Epsom salts. Soak in the tub till the water cools.

How Long Does It Take to Recover?

The recovery time for a muscle strain in the ribs can take around two weeks for a moderate strain, 3 to 4 weeks for a moderate strain, and as much as eight weeks for a severe strain. Even if there is a muscle tear, these injuries generally do not take longer than 8 weeks to heal. Your doctor may recommend no lifting or difficult activity for a few weeks. Likewise, bed-rest or peaceful rest in a chair might be needed. During the time, you may require anti-inflammatory medications (Ibuprofen) and muscle relaxers to ease muscle convulsions.

Last modified: June 15, 2017


The Author

Reyus Mammadli

As a healthy lifestyle advisor I try to guide individuals in becoming more aware of living well and healthy through a series of proactive and preventive measures, disease prevention steps, recovery after illness or medical procedures.

Education: Bachelor Degree of Medical Equipment and Electronics.

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