The human rib cage is a bony framework that not only supports the upper body, but also protects the heart, lungs and the blood vessels in the thoracic cavity. Twelve pairs of ribs, twelve thoracic vertebrae and a T-shaped bone called sternum create the bony framework of the rib cage. The ends of the first seven pairs of the ribs connect to the sternum through cartilage and the tips of costal cartilage connects to the sternum through bands of fibrous tissues called costosternal ligaments. The muscles that are located in the spaces between the ribs are referred to as intercostal muscles.
These muscles help the rib cage move up and down and facilitate intercostal breathing. If any of these structures get damaged due to a traumatic injury, one is most likely to experience rib cage pain. Pain could be dull, sharp, intermittent or constant. The intensity or nature of the pain would depend on the extent of damage to any of the anatomical structures located in the thoracic region. In this article, we will look into the common causes of pain in lower right rib cage along with the treatment options.
What Causes Pain in the Lower Right Rib Cage?
A sharp pain in rib cage may be caused due to damage to the ribs or inflammation of the cartilage, ligaments or the muscles located in the intercostal spaces. Rib fractures or cracks in the ribs are often the underlying cause of sharp pain in the ribs. The ribs are curved and compressed bones. Each of these ribs attach to a vertebra in the back of the spine. The first seven pairs of the ribs are called true ribs.
These are attached to the sternum, the next three pairs attach to the upper ribs whereas the last two pairs are not attached to the sternum. It is the ribs located in the middle that are more susceptible to injury. Though ribs are strong, but there is a limit to the force they can withstand. A severe blow can cause them to fracture. Certain inflammatory conditions can also cause pain under the right rib cage or the left rib cage. Given below are some of the conditions that may cause pain in the rib cage.
Blunt trauma to the chest can injure the ribs, muscles, ligaments or cartilages. If one receives a severe blow to the chest, the ligaments or cartilages can get inflamed. If one is hit on the lower right side of the rib cage, one would naturally suffer from pain in the lower right side of the rib cage. Crush injuries, falls or motor vehicle accidents could also cause rib injuries. While people who play high-speed contact sports are at an increased risk of suffering from rib injuries, repetitive strain to the rib cage could occur to those who play sports like tennis, golf or rowing.
Under these circumstances, one is most likely to suffer from painful breathing. Though small cracks may resolve with the help of drug therapy, multiple rib fractures or displaced rib fracture may need surgery. If a part of the rib breaks away, it could even puncture the lung or the heart. This is a medical emergency and the patient would need to be operated upon.
Costochondritis is another medical condition that is characterized by chest pain, tenderness and painful breathing. The pain results from inflammation of the costochondral junction or the place where the cartilage and the ribs meet at the sternum. While blunt trauma or rib fractures could lead to this condition, the inflammation could occur due to viral respiratory infections. In case of costosternal strain and inflammation, pain usually worsens when one tries to bend or move. The intensity of rib cage pain also increases while taking deep breaths, coughing or sneezing. Tenderness on the costosternal joint is a common symptom of this condition.
While costochondritis and rib fractures are conditions that directly affect the rib cage and cause musculoskeletal pain, it's possible that the pain may have originated at another place. Well, it's possible that the pain may be referred from the organs located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Liver, which is a largest glandular organ of the body and a small pear-shaped muscular sac called gallbladder are both located in the upper right side of the abdomen.
Both of these organs play an important role in the digestion of food. Liver also helps in detoxification of the body. If the liver gets damaged due to any reason or the gallbladder gets inflamed due to gallstones, one may experience upper right abdominal pain. At times, pain may even be referred to the chest. Kidney stones or a kidney infection in the right kidney could also be responsible for causing pain in the lower right section of the rib cage and back.
These were some of the underlying conditions that may cause a sharp or dull pain in the rib cage. If the pain is caused by an injury, one must take ample rest so as to help the body recuperate from the injury. Any physical activity that may put stress on the rib cage needs to be avoided. While anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers or steroids may be prescribed for alleviating musculoskeletal pain, treatment options would vary if the pain is caused due to other disorders.