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Intercostal Muscle Strain - Causes, Signs, Treatments & Recovery


An intercostal muscle strain is a muscular injury that occurs between two or more ribs. The intercostal muscles, often known as the intercostals, join the ribs and serve to form the chest wall. These muscles may produce substantial discomfort in the mid and upper back if they overstretch or rupture.

Intercostal muscle strain is a frequent sports and job injury. It is not usually caused by normal daily activities. While an intercostal muscle injury may be very painful, most patients recover completely within 6 to 8 weeks.

What Is An Intercostal Muscle Strain?

Your intercostal muscles run between your ribs, connecting them. They aid with upper-body stability and breathing. The intercostal muscles are divided into three layers: the exterior intercostals, the internal intercostals, and the innermost intercostals.

A strain occurs when a muscle strains, pulls, or tears partly. A strain of any of the intercostal muscle layers may cause discomfort and trouble breathing.

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Chest discomfort is often caused by muscle strains. The intercostal muscles are responsible for 21 to 49 percent of all musculoskeletal chest discomfort.

There are several ways to strain or pull your intercostal muscles. These muscles are often injured during a twisting action. Pain might begin suddenly from an accident or gradually through repeated activities.

Intercostal Muscle Strain Miracle Point

Signs And Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of an intercostal muscle strain might vary somewhat depending on the etiology. Symptoms may include:

  • Upper back and rib discomfort
  • Acute and abrupt pain, especially if triggered by a blow to the chest or back slowly growing discomfort following repeated action, such as rowing, swimming, or other physical activities
  • Muscular rigidity and tension, resulting in upper back discomfort
  • Muscular tightness while bending or twisting the upper body increased discomfort when coughing, sneezing, or inhaling deeply spasms of the intercostal muscles soreness between the ribs

How To Cope Until Your Doctor’s Appointment

Make an appointment with your doctor if you believe you have hurt the muscles between your ribs. They can tell you which muscle has been strained and whether you have harmed any other structures in your chest.

Your doctor will provide you with a comprehensive treatment plan, but in the meanwhile, avoid bending and reaching movements that aggravate your discomfort. You might also try the following treatments for pain relief:

Over-the-counter Pain Killers

You can use over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve) or mild pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) while you wait to see your doctor. Follow the package directions to determine how much and how frequently to take these medications.

You should also be careful not to overmedicate by taking many items containing pain killers, such as cold or menstrual cramp medications. Before using over-the-counter medicine with your regular medication, see your doctor.

Cold And Hot Treatment

Cold treatment can help relieve pain and decrease muscular inflammation. For the first two days, apply a cold pack to the damaged region for 20 minutes at a time, multiple times each day. An ice bag, a gel cold pack, a plastic bag packed with ice and covered in a towel, or even a bag of frozen vegetables can be used.

After the first 48 hours, you should begin applying heat to the affected ribs. Heat can assist loosen and relax muscles, allowing you to do physical therapy. You can use a heating pad or a warm wet cloth to administer heat for 20 minutes at a time.

Epsom Salt Baths

Take a warm bath with magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) added as part of your heat treatment. Epsom salts may be purchased at your local medicine store or online at Amazon.com. Simply add roughly 2 cups to your bath and soak for 15 minutes or longer.

The dissolved minerals penetrate through your skin and may modestly raise magnesium levels in your blood. Magnesium is a mineral that is essential for muscular function. Although the modest quantity of magnesium absorbed from your bath is unlikely to aid your tight muscles, the hot bath might calm you.

Exercising Your Breathing

Breathing with an intercostal muscle strain is very unpleasant. However, taking just shallow breaths rather than complete, deep breaths might lead to infection and pneumonia. Deep breathing techniques can also be used as a kind of stress reduction meditation.

Try to do a few minutes of breathing exercises every hour. As an example:

  • Place a cushion against your sore muscles.
  • Inhale slowly and deeply as you can.
  • For a few seconds, hold your breath.
  • Breathe slowly out.
  • Rep 10 times more.

When you see your doctor, they may offer you a spirometer, a plastic gadget that shows you how deeply you should breathe.

Intercostal Muscle Strain Vs. Other Upper Body Pains

Since the upper back does not do a lot of moving about, it seldom sustains injuries. If you're experiencing discomfort here, it's probably due to years of slouching.

Another possible cause is trauma to the upper spine, such as that sustained in a vehicle crash, which weakens the area and makes it more susceptible to damage.

Acute pain from an injury to the upper back typically presents as a searing stabbing sensation. Pain in the upper back, shoulder, and neck is common, and it may come and go.

Overuse or an accident almost invariably lead to strained intercostal muscles. However, it is not always clear where the discomfort from pneumonia or other lung problems originates.

When pain is localized, like it is when it is felt between the ribs, it is unlikely to originate in the lungs or the upper back. Sharp, radiating discomfort in the lungs is a common complaint.

Rib fracture pain is typically significantly more intense than that caused by straining the intercostal muscles. Possible signs of a rib fracture include:

  • short of breath
  • a sticking out or stabbing pain in the ribs; severe tenderness in the region around the ribs
  • A broken rib is a serious injury that needs quick medical treatment.

Intercostal Muscle Strain Common Causes

Intercostal muscle tension is uncommon to occur from daily activity. Muscle strains like this often originate from either physical trauma or excessive use.

Typical causes include:

  • A direct blow to the rib cage, as in a fall or car accident; an impact blow, as in hockey or football
  • Twisting the torso beyond its normal range of motion
  • Twisting while lifting weights; twisting from specific yoga postures or dance positions
  • Reaching overhead, as in painting a ceiling
  • Lifting any heavy object above shoulder height
  • Reaching overhead for extended periods of time
  • Reaching overhead repetitively with force

A strain of the intercostal muscles is another possible consequence of a rapid increase in physical activity. This is especially true if you have weak muscles from inactivity or bad posture.


Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments after treating potentially significant injuries:


It is especially crucial to avoid movements that trigger the discomfort. Athletes may need to take time off from practice and competition, or limit their activities to avoid reinjury. Your healthcare practitioner can help you progressively strengthen your muscles and recover range of motion.


You may be able to minimize swelling in the days following the accident by putting an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 15 to 20 minutes at intervals throughout the day.

Heat Therapy

After the first few days, you can go from using an ice pack to treating the tension with a heating pad. Heating the affected muscles may help alleviate discomfort and hasten healing.

Pain Relievers

Some drugs can help lower the amount of discomfort you feel as a result of the strain. Discuss with your doctor which drugs are suitable to use, as some may cause increased bleeding.


If the muscles are fully ripped, surgery may be required.

The usual intercostal muscle strain heals in four to five weeks, however the recovery time might vary depending on the degree of the strain.

How long does it take for intercostal muscle strain to heal? The recovery time for an intercostal muscle strain can vary depending on the severity of the injury. It may take anywhere from a few days to several weeks for the muscle to heal completely.

Do intercostal muscles heal on their own? Yes, intercostal muscles can heal on their own with proper rest and care. However, severe or recurring cases may require medical intervention and additional treatment.

How do you massage intercostal muscles? When massaging intercostal muscles, it's important to use gentle and careful techniques. Apply light pressure to the affected area and use circular or kneading motions. If the pain persists or worsens during the massage, it is advisable to stop and seek professional guidance.

Physical Therapy

Can physical therapy help intercostal muscles? When swelling has subsided, physical therapy may begin; this is when patients can expect to engage in activities such as guided stretching, endurance training, postural correction, and breathing drills.

Patients are encouraged to perform diaphragmatic breathing while holding a cushion to stabilize the painful region as part of a series of breathing exercises and deep breathing exercises.

Tight muscles can lead to muscle imbalance and an inefficient mechanism; however, if the strain is the result of overstretching the muscle, further stretching may cause pain and result in muscle weakness; this should be controlled by a strength training program.

Conditioning the muscles Improving thoracic kyphosis and reducing intercostal muscle soreness have both been linked to thoracic extension exercises, namely those in which the breath is held for a few seconds before being released slowly and while pushing weights backward.

What Is The Best Medicine For Intercostal Muscle Strain?

It's important to note that I am an AI language model and cannot provide medical advice. However, for an intercostal muscle strain, the treatment primarily involves rest, pain management, and self-care measures.

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.

However, it is always best to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and advice on the most suitable medication for your specific condition.

They can assess your symptoms and provide personalized recommendations based on your medical history and individual needs.

People Also Ask

Can You Exercise With An Intercostal Muscle Strain?

It is generally recommended to avoid strenuous exercise and activities that worsen the pain when experiencing an intercostal muscle strain. However, gentle stretching and low-impact exercises may be beneficial for recovery.

Should I Seek Medical Attention For An Intercostal Muscle Strain?

If you experience severe pain, difficulty breathing, or if the pain persists despite home remedies and self-care, it is advisable to seek medical attention. A healthcare professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Can Intercostal Muscle Strain Be Prevented?

While it may not be possible to prevent all cases of intercostal muscle strain, some measures can help reduce the risk. These include maintaining good posture, using proper lifting techniques, warming up before physical activity, and gradually increasing exercise intensity.

Can Intercostal Muscle Strain Recur?

Intercostal muscle strain can recur if the underlying cause is not addressed or if the muscles are not given adequate time to heal. It is important to follow proper recovery protocols, engage in appropriate strengthening exercises, and avoid activities that may reaggravate the muscles to prevent recurrence.

Final Thoughts

Intercostal muscle strain may be irritating since they take a long time to recover. If your strain is very tenacious, your doctor may inject lidocaine and corticosteroids into the affected region to relieve pain and swelling.

Intercostal muscle strains are sometimes associated with rib stress fractures. Even if you do have a stress fracture, your therapy will most likely remain same.

Follow your treatment plan, complete your breathing exercises, and you'll be feeling more like yourself and back on the field in no time.

To avoid future muscular strains, warm up thoroughly before participating in sports or exercising, and avoid overdoing activities that your body isn't accustomed to.

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