Intercostal Muscle Strain

All About Intercostal Muscle Strain

If you have a stabbing pain in your side, where your ribs are, and you do not know what caused it, you may be a victim of intercostal muscle strain.  People who are physically active (exercise, sports, etc.) are more vulnerable to this condition, but anyone can get a painful intercostal muscle strain.  The symptoms of this, however, are sometimes confused with those of a broken rib.  This article will define an intercostal muscle strain, explain the causes and treatment, and tell you how to differentiate between it and a broken rib.

We will begin with a bit of anatomy.  The human body, generally speaking, is composed of a few different parts, categorized by what function they do.  Bones support your body; organs provide life-giving function; nerves transmit signals; blood vessels carry blood; and muscles allow you to move.  It is this last part that we will examine.  Muscles are the most frequently injured parts of your body, if you are an athlete or are moderately physically active. People get strains, tears, and cramps all the time in their muscles, which can be quite debilitating and painful.  An intercostal muscle strain is no exception; in fact, it is one of the more painful muscle strains you can have.

A muscle contracts and expands in order to perform a specific function.  Your diaphragm is a good example of this. As it moves, you breathe; without a diaphragm, you would not be able to draw a breath.  Intercostal muscles are similar in that they expand and contract.  They are small muscles attached to your ribs that move your ribs so your lungs can expand.  They exist in three layers and are some of the most important respiratory muscles you have in your body.  Due to their location, however, a strain can result in a lot of pain.

Symptoms of intercostal muscle injuries vary in intensity, depending on how serious your injury is, but on a whole they are basic and simple.  Those with strained intercostal muscles will feel pain, varying from sharp, stabbing pains when breathing to a ever-present, painful ache or soreness in that particular area.  Sufferers of this condition also cannot draw deep breaths without a significant degree of difficulty, which, due to our need to constantly breathe, provides a lot of pain and a longer healing time than with other muscle strains. Note that these symptoms are very similar to those of a fractured rib.  If you feel any of these symptoms and they do not go away quickly, see a doctor.  He or she will be able to perform an X-ray to hopefully see if a fracture is there.

How do people strain these muscles? The easiest way is to play a sport that requires your torso to move dramatically, such as basketball or tennis.  Swimming is also a common cause. Basically, any physical activity you do that exerts force on your torso can result in strained intercostal muscles.  Therefore, be sure to exert caution when participating in rigorous athletic activities.  Also, ensure that you stretch well before exercising; this will help you prevent any muscle strain at all.

There is not a lot you can do to treat this condition.  The truth of the matter is that you will have to take it easy, relax, and apply ice to the affected region until it heals on its own.  If it helps, you can lay on your injured side so you can draw a deeper breath.  Healing times vary depending on the injury, but for an average strain, you can expect to be better in two to three weeks.  Some severe strains take six weeks or longer, while minor sprains will go away in a week or two.

In summary, an intercostal muscle strain can be a very painful injury that is caused by athletic activity.  Its symptoms are also similar to a broken rib, so see a doctor if you have them.  And, if you have this strain, be careful when you breathe and rest until it heals.