Causes of rib pain on both sides
Your rib cage functions to protect some of your most vital organs and so can often be the first body part affected after a traumatic injury. However, trauma is only one of the potential causes of rib pain. Because your rib cage is composed of multiple different components, rib pain can also be due to inflammatory and systemic causes. Rib pain can also be caused by injury to some of the underlying structures beneath the ribs that when inflamed or irritated cause a pain that mimics rib pain. While some causes of rib pain are not serious and may resolve on their own, you should be examined by a healthcare professional who can identify the right diagnosis and the best course of treatment.
Trauma to the rib cage or chest wall can result in multiple injuries that can cause rib pain.
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- Bone fracture: Trauma to the chest wall like the kind that occurs with a severe fall, car accident, or direct blow to the area can cause fracture of either the ribs, sternum (breastbone), or clavicle (collarbone). Any of these fractures can cause pain that feels as if it is coming from the ribs. Rib fractures, in particular, cause pain that is worsened with breathing and coughing.
- Lung bruise: Trauma to the chest wall can also cause injury to the underlying lung resulting in pain that mimics rib pain. When trauma causes bruising of a lung this is known as a pulmonary contusion.
- Muscle strain: The muscles that join the ribs together are called intercostal muscles. Intercostal muscles can be strained or pulled when overexerted either during heavy lifting or intense coughing.
Rib pain can be caused by inflammation which is the body’s normal response to injury or infection.
- Rib joint inflammation: The rib cartilage that joins the rib bones to the sternum or breastbone can become irritated or inflamed in a condition known as costochondritis.
- Infection of the lung or airway: Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs that compose the lung. Pneumonia can lead to irritation of the lining of tissue, also called pleura, that surrounds the lung. This tissue lining is situated close to the ribs and irritation or inflammation of the lining, also known as pleuritis, can mimic rib pain. Bronchitis, inflammation of the airway, and upper respiratory infections can also cause rib pain due to prolonged coughing.
- Pulmonary embolism: A pulmonary embolism (PE) or blood clot in the lung can also lead to irritation of the lining of the lung, also known as pleuritis, which can mimic rib pain.
Systemic and other causes
Some diseases or illnesses are systemic meaning they can affect multiple parts of the body including the ribs and rib cage. Cancer, for example, can spread to many bones in the body and sometimes spreads to the rib cage leading to rib pain. Sometimes rib pain is due to a non-physical cause like stress or anxiety that manifests as the physical symptom of chest pain.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
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