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Rib cage pain



Rib cage pain includes any pain or discomfort in the area of the ribs. See chest pain.

Alternative Names

Pain - rib cage

Common Causes
  • Bruised, cracked, or fractured rib
  • Inflammation of cartilage near the breastbone (costochondritis)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Pleurisy (the pain is worse when breathing deeply)
Home Care

Rest and immobilization are the best cure for a rib cage fracture.

Follow your health care provider's instructions for treating the cause of rib cage pain.

Call your health care provider if

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if the pain is persistent, prolonged, or unexplained.

What to expect at your health care provider's office

The health care provider will take a medical history and perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

  • When did the pain develop?
  • Is it present all the time?
  • Is it getting worse?
  • How would you describe the pain?
  • Is it a sharp or stabbing sensation?
  • Does it feel like pulling or grabbing?
  • Does it ache like a bruise?
  • Is it a crushing pain?
  • Does it feel like pressure or heaviness? (This may be a sign of angina or heart attack)
  • Exactly where is the pain?
  • Is it only on one side?
  • Is it the same on both sides?
  • Is the pain worse when bending or twisting?
  • Is it worse when coughing?
  • Is it worse when breathing deeply?
  • Has there been an injury to the chest?
  • What other symptoms are present?

The physical examination may emphasize the lungs and chest cavity.

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:


With a broken rib, the pain gets worse when bending and twisting the body. Such movement does not cause the pain in those who have pleurisy (swelling of the lining of the lungs) or muscle spasms.


Murray JF, Gebhart GF. Chest pain. In: Mason RJ, Murray J, Broaddus VC, Nadel J, eds. Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2005:chap 30.

Imamura M, Imamura ST. Tietze syndrome. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 100.

Review Date: 2/22/2009
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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