Some Common Causes Of Intercostal Muscle Pain

There are many possible causes of intercostal muscle pain. It pays to know something about the anatomy of these muscles to better understand what some of these causes might be. The intercostal muscles are those muscles in the rib cage, located between and around the ribs. Some, the internal intercostals, are located on the inside of the rib cage, while the others, the external intercostals, are on the outside of the ribs, and wrap around from the back of the rib cage to near the front end of the rib bones. The internal intercostals go diagonally inward. These are the muscles that can sometimes be painful when you have a bad chest cold and you cough. The external intercostal muscles also travel diagonally, but in the opposite direction. Having both sets of intercostal muscles traveling in diagonal directions increases the amount of work they are able to do.

The Function Of The Intercostal Muscles- The primary function of the external intercostal muscles is to raise the rib cage, thus allowing the lungs to increase in volume when we breathe. If these muscles become inflamed, or are otherwise damaged for whatever reason, inhaling can be painful. The internal intercostals work in two ways. On the one hand, they work in tandem with the external intercostals in lifting the rib cage to increase lung capacity. On the other hand, the internal intercostals, which lie between the rib bones, serve to bring the ribs closer together when they contract and shorten, thus enabling us to exhale. Simply put, the intercostal muscles as a whole support our respiratory system, by allowing us to breathe more fully, both in and out.

Stress And Strain - As it was noted at the beginning, there are many potential causes of intercostal muscle pain. Just like any other muscles in the body, these muscles are subject to being overworked, strained, or bruised. They can in some instances become inflamed due to some underlying disease or disorder. The area these muscles are located in, the rib cage, is rich in blood vessels and nerves. When something is amiss with one or more of the intercostal muscles, the pain will sometimes be mild, or it can be quite severe at other times. A strained intercostal muscle for instance, can make breathing quite uncomfortable.

Neuralgia - A fairly common source of intercostal muscle pain is intercostal neuralgia. Intercostal neuralgia is most often experienced by pregnant women. If the growing baby causes physical changes in the abdomen, pressure can be placed on the nerves that are located between the ribs. There are a total of eleven intercostal nerves between the ribs, and anything which affects these nerves, be it a pregnancy or a disease, can cause intercostal muscle pain.

Shingles - Shingles, caused by the herpes zoster (chickenpox) virus can affect any part of the body, but quite often centers along the nerves in the ribcage. While the muscles themselves are not in any way damaged, they nevertheless seem for all intents and purposes to be the source of the pain.

Physical Activity - Intercostal muscle pain is often the result of a strenuous physical activity which has strained the muscles, although simply twisting the torso can often have the same effect. The pain experienced may be a dull ache or a sharp stabbing pain, depending somewhat upon which muscles are affected, as well as how badly the muscles may have been strained. Therapy generally consists of rest, ice, and relaxation. Injuries to the rib cage can be notoriously difficult to treat at times. Putting the rib cage in a cast isn't an option, even if a rib has been fractured, since a cast, or even a tight wrap, inhibits breathing, and could cause undesirable complications.

Costochondritis - While it is cartilage and not the muscles themselves that are affected by costochondritis, the symptoms of this condition can be hard to distinguish from those experienced when the intercostal muscles are affected. Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects the rib to the breastbone. The cause of this condition is usually not known, and the condition generally goes away on its own after a short time. More than one rib is usually affected, and it is usually on the left side of the rib cage where the pain is felt. Unlike the pain associated with a damaged intercostal muscle, the pain associated with costochondritis can be quite similar to that experienced during a heart attack, and therefore can be a cause for alarm. This is one of those cases where it is better to be safe than sorry and see a doctor, or go to the emergency room.

As is the case with most muscle injuries or problems, if the pain is localized and mild, there is usually nothing to worry about. If it is somewhat severe, one should at least have a doctor look into it and perhaps prescribe pain or anti inflammatory medication. If the pain persists over a period of time, and appears to be getting worse, or is accompanied by symptoms we generally associate with an illness, it is always best to seek prompt medical attention. Intercostal muscle pain seldom indicates a serious condition exists, but there are times it could.