Although costochondritis, intercostal muscle strain, or rib fractures could be the common contributing factors for pain on the left side of the rib cage, pain could also be referred from organs located in left upper quadrant of the abdomen. The following article provides information on some of the probable causes of left-sided rib cage pain and treatment options.
The human rib cage, which is also known as the thoracic cage, consists of 24 ribs, 12 thoracic vertebrae, a flattened T-shaped bone called sternum (breastbone), and the costal cartilages that connect the ends of the true ribs to the sternum. The rib cage protects organs that are located in the thoracic cavity. The intercostal muscles that are located within the ribs play a vital role in respiration. If any of the structures located on the left side of the rib cage get damaged due to an injury or a medical condition, the affected individual is likely to experience rib cage pain on the left side.
Common Contributing Factors
Pain that is felt in and around the rib cage could be due to the development of a tear in the muscle fibers. Blunt force trauma to the rib cage could cause the ribs to get cracked, bruised, or fractured. Though rib injuries are often the major cause for pain on the left side of the rib cage, pain could even radiate to the left side of the rib cage from organs that are located on the upper left quadrant of the abdomen. Here are some of the medical conditions that may cause rib pain on the left side.
Rib injuries occur when the rib cage is subjected to blunt force trauma. Ribs could get bruised or may develop a crack if a heavy object falls on the chest. The extent of damage would vary, depending on the force with which the object falls on the chest. Motor vehicle accidents or a fall from a height could also cause rib injuries. Overstretching of the intercostal muscles could lead to an intercostal muscle strain, which in turn, may cause pain.
The intensity of pain would vary, depending on the extent of damage. The degree of damage can be ascertained with the help of a chest X-ray or other imaging studies. The affected individual may experience pain that may worsen while coughing, sneezing, or taking deep breaths.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers are usually prescribed so as to provide relief from pain. The patient may also experience relief on applying a heating pad on the affected area. It is extremely important to take adequate rest. The affected individual must not indulge in intense physical activities that may aggravate the condition.
Costochondritis refers to a medical condition that is characterized by the inflammation of the costochondral junction, which is the area where the ribs are attached to the costal cartilage. In several cases, the exact cause of costochondritis may not be known. It is believed that an infection of the costochondral joint, violent coughing, physical strain, or blunt force trauma to the ribs could cause this condition.
The characteristic symptom of this condition is chest pain. The affected area may feel tender to touch. The intensity of pain increases while sneezing or coughing.
The treatment usually involves drug therapy. The use of painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is usually recommended. The affected individual must also take ample rest.
Acid reflux disease is characterized by the backflow of the gastric juices or the contents of the stomach to the esophagus. This could give rise to pain, discomfort, difficulty in swallowing, sore throat, a sensation of lump in throat, or a burning sensation in the chest.
The treatment of acid reflux disease involves the use of antacids and prescription drugs. The affected individual must also avoid spicy food or food items that may trigger heartburn.
Pneumothorax, which is commonly known as a collapsed lung, refers to the presence of air in the pleural space. Pleural space refers to the space between the two layers of the pleura. Pleura is a two-layered structure that comprises the parietal pleura that covers the inner chest wall, and the visceral pleura that lines the lungs. Though a small amount of air is normally present in the pleural space, an abnormal buildup of air puts pressure over the lungs. This interferes with the lungs’ ability to expand during inhalation. Rib injuries or medical conditions such as asthma, whooping cough, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease can cause pneumothorax.
Since this condition affects the ability of the lungs to expand during inhalation, it gives rise to shortness of breath. The affected individual is also likely to experience chest pain that worsens on coughing or taking a deep breath. In severe cases, symptoms such as tightness of chest, bluish discoloration of skin due to low oxygen levels, fatigue, and a rapid heart rate may be experienced by the patient.
Pneumothorax can be treated by getting rid of air from the pleural space. This involves the use of a needle to remove the air. In severe cases, a chest tube with an attached suction device is used to drain the excess air. If these procedures don’t work, surgery may be recommended.
Pain that is felt on the left side of the rib cage could be referred from the stomach. The stomach is located on the left side of the abdomen. Pain may radiate to the rib cage if the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed due to an infection. Inflammation of the lining of the stomach is medically referred to as gastritis. Inflammation could be due to an infection caused by a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. Prolonged use of certain drugs and alcohol abuse could also be contributing factors. Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain in the upper abdomen are some of the common symptoms of gastritis. People who are affected by chronic constipation, excessive buildup of gas, or irritable bowel syndrome could also experience pain under the rib cage. The treatment involves drug therapy, coupled with lifestyle changes.
Pain in and around the thoracic cage could be caused due to a wide range of reasons. However, rib injuries are often the major cause for rib cage pain. Since rib injuries can take a long time to heal, those who have suffered from a rib injury must take rest and refrain from indulging in physical activities that may worsen their condition. Since the heart lies within the chest cavity, do consult a doctor if you experience a feeling of tightness in the chest or a squeezing chest pain. Rib cage pain could be a symptom of various medical conditions, which is why, medical help must be sought if the pain persists.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.