The rib cage, which is also known as the thoracic cage, is a bony structure that encloses the organs located in the chest cavity. The rib cage consists of twelve pairs of ribs, twelve thoracic vertebrae and an elongated T-shaped bone called sternum. The ribs, which are curved arches of bone, are an integral part of the rib cage. They are categorized into true ribs, false ribs and floating ribs. The first seven pairs of ribs are referred to as the true ribs. These attach to the sternum through costal cartilage. Costal cartilage refers to the connective tissue that connects the ends of the ribs to the sternum. The next three pairs of ribs that are called false ribs attach to costal cartilage of the lowest pair of true ribs. The last two pairs of ribs, which are called floating ribs, do not attach to the sternum and are only attached to the spine.
Since the costal cartilages allow the ribcage to expand and drop during inhalation and exhalation, one may suffer from painful breathing if the costal cartilage gets inflamed due to trauma or medical conditions. One may also experience pain if the ribs develop cracks. The intensity of pain may increase during deep breathing. In fact, one could even experience pain in the ribs due to an intercostal muscle strain. An intercostal muscle strain could occur due to violent coughing.
Pain in the ribs could be caused due to a wide variety of reasons. A rib injury that causes damage to the ribs or the costal cartilage is one of the most common causes of rib cage pain. Inflammation of the intercostal muscles could also give rise to rib pain when coughing or breathing. At times, the pain that you experience while coughing may even be a referred pain from the lungs. Given below are some conditions that may be responsible for causing pain while coughing.
Costochondritis: Costochondritis refers to the inflammation of costal cartilage. This condition is characterized by tenderness over the costosternal joint. A person suffering from this medical condition is most likely to experience pain in the ribs while coughing. Costochondritis occurs when there is repetitive strain to the ribs. Those who play contact sports are definitely at a greater risk of developing this condition. Jerky movements or forceful swinging of arms during sports such as golf, tennis or rowing could lead to the inflammation of the costal cartilage. At times, the costal cartilage might get inflamed due to respiratory infections, especially viral infections. Since the intercostal muscles located between the ribs facilitate the movement of rib cage during breathing, a person suffering from inflamed intercostal muscles is most likely to experience labored breathing or painful breathing. The pain may exacerbate with exertion and may also worsen while sneezing or coughing.
Lung Conditions: Pleura refers to the thin serous membrane that surrounds the lungs. Inflammation of pleura is medically referred to as pleurisy. Those who suffer from this condition are more likely to experience pain when coughing. The buildup of fluids between the layers of the pleura could also cause painful breathing. So, if you have been experiencing painful breathing or pain in ribs, you must get yourself medically examined soon. At times, severe coughing that occurs during severe chest infections or lung disorders may even cause the ribs to crack.
Joint Conditions: Aging may bring about degeneration of cartilage or weakening of bones. For those who develop medical conditions such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, even mild injuries may lead to cracked ribs. While osteoporosis is a medical condition that is characterized by weakened bones, osteoarthritis is associated with age-related degeneration of bones due to worn down cartilage. A person suffering from any of these conditions needs to be extremely careful. Even a small rib injury or violent coughing may cause cracked ribs.
Since ribs can get weakened due to joint disorders, it's essential that these joint disorders be treated at the earliest. In case, one suffers from a cracked rib due to coughing or rib injuries, doctors may prescribe painkillers, anti-inflammatory drugs or nerve block injections. These can surely help in providing relief from pain that may be arising from cracked or bruised ribs. Cracked ribs may heal between 3 to 6 weeks, but rib fractures might take longer. RICE, which stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation works for most types of strains, but it may not be followed in entirety in case of a costosternal strain. Application of compression wraps or splints may not be suggested. This is due to the fact that these may interfere with breathing.
One must take ample rest and avoid any physical activity that may worsen the condition. This will ensure a speedy recovery. Self-care measures will surely help in speeding up the healing process. Once the ribs have healed considerably, one can also perform certain breathing exercises. One can suffer from a cracked rib from coughing only if one's bones are weak and when the infection is severe enough to cause violent coughing. Thus, the best way to prevent rib cage pain from coughing is to treat such infections at the earliest. Elderly people who suffer from degenerative joint conditions should follow the advice of medical experts to manage the symptoms of such conditions. Drug therapy coupled with lifestyle-related changes will surely slow down the progression of such diseases.
Since rib cage pain can be caused due to a wide range of reasons, people suffering from persistent rib cage pain from coughing, must get a medical checkup done. A timely diagnosis and treatment will pave the way for a speedy recovery.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.