The ribcage is a key anatomical structure and protects vital organs like the lungs and heart. It is also vulnerable to injury due to chest trauma, which can include falls and blows to the chest or thoracic area (the ribcage). Rib injuries cause pain when breathing in or out, as well as a dull to sharp ache, bruising, swelling of the affected area, and difficulty breathing. Coughing can also aggravate rib injuries, particularly when it is a forceful cough that is repetitive or sustained.
If you have a rib injury, there are several things that can help alleviate the pain and improve your quality of life until the ribs heal. First, try to take deep breaths and avoid coughing to prevent lung collapse or infection. Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be used as needed to control the pain. Ice packs applied to the chest for 15 minutes at a time may help reduce inflammation and pain.
Aching and sore ribs may be a sign of a condition called costochondritis, which causes a pulling of the intercostal muscles. This can occur in many activities, but it is often caused by repeated and forceful movements such as coughing or sneezing. The location of the pain varies depending on which ribs are involved, but it can be felt anywhere along the rib cage. In addition to the pain and tenderness, other symptoms of costochondritis include tingling and numbness in one or both of the upper arms and hands.