Got a Pain in Your Side?

If you’ve been exercising, sick, pregnant, lost significant weight, or have shingles, you may be feeling pain in your side*. If your physician indicated that this pain may be muscular, it might help to learn about nonspecific intercostal pain, commonly known as a side pain 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 bending.

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 and pull the ribs inward 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 and exacerbating the condition.

This intercostal strain is usually categorized as to grade levels:

  • Grade 1: mild injury; minimal damage to muscle fibers; healing time is between 2-3 weeks
  • 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 weeks.

Given that the injury is not debilitating in the case of a Grade 1 strain, 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 return trip to your general practitioner may be in order, and s/he will be able to (re)assess the degree of the injury and suggest appropriate treatments or a rest period.

*This article is intended for educational purposes; seek a diagnosis from your physician to verify the cause of your pain.


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Hands On Health Massage Therapy And Wellness
7980 Chapel Hill Road, Ste 125
Cary NC 27513