Rib Cage Pain Causes and Symptoms

Rib Cage Pain Causes – Pain Under Left Rib Cage & Pain Under Right Rib Cage

The rib cage consists of 24 ribs, 12 on either side, and it shields the organs of the chest, including the heart and the lungs, from damage.

The liver is located at the lower end of the rib cage on the right and the spleen is on the left. Both are given some protection by the rib bones. The gallbladder and kidneys lie just below the rib cage.

If any of the components of the rib cage, including the bones or cartilage, or the organs nearby are affected by injury or illness, a person will have pain in or near the rib cage.

Rib cage pain may be sharp, dull, or achy and felt at or below the chest.

Rib cage pain can be caused due to anything from pulled muscles to a rib fracture. This pain may occur immediately upon injury or develop slowly over time. It can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

Common Causes for Rib Cage Pain Include:

  • Injury: Sports-related and other injuries can cause bruised or broken ribs.
  • Costochondritis: Costochondritis or Tietze’s syndrome is another common cause of rib cage pain.
  • Pleurisy
  • Cancer
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Pulmonary embolism

Symptoms of Rib Cage Pain:

Rib cage pain may occur in the chest, below the ribs, or above the naval. As there are several different causes of rib cage pain, the symptoms can vary. As a result, the pain may be:

  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Aching
  • Sudden
  • Slow to develop
  • Constant
  • Intermittent
  • worse when breathing in or moving

Other Symptoms Affecting the Rib Cage can Include:

  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty breathing

Pain under the Right Rib Cage:

  1. Gallstones in the gallbladder occasionally block the bile duct causing inflammation and infection. Commonly gallstones cause pain on the right side and cause a ‘band’ type pain around the chest.
    Symptoms also include;

    • Vomiting and nausea
    • Pain across chest and abdomen
    • High temperature
    • Rapid heart rate

    Gallstones often need surgical removal but can be managed with pain killers.

  2. Diseases pertaining to the liver: such as hepatitis, fatty liver, heart failure can cause the liver to become infected and inflamed therefore causing pain. However these diseases would usually be accompanied by other signs and symptoms in addition to the pain you describe. Hepatitis or a fatty liver will include symptoms such as:
    • Fatigue / weakness
    • Nausea
    • Poor appetite / Weight loss
    • Mild fever

Similarly, heart failure would have additional signs and symptoms, which may include: Swelling in your legs and feet, Fast irregular heart beats (above 100 beats per minute), Persistent cough or wheezing with white or pink blood-tinged phlegm

Pain under the Left Rib Cage:

  1. Pancreatitis: Pancreatitis occurs when pancreas becomes inflamed, producing severe pain and nausea/vomiting.
  2. Inflammatory bowel disease, is the collective name for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. These 2 diseases involve the inflammation of the gut. The symptoms usually include:

Pain on Either Side of the Rib Cage:

  1. Trauma/damage to ribs and cartilages
  2. Costcochondritis: or inflammation of the muscles around the rib cage, is often accompanied by fever, cough, fatigue and sore throat. Usually treated with anti-inflammatory medication

Pain in Ribs can also be due to Acid Reflux and Ulcers:

Pain from stomach ulcers occurs after eating meals and can radiate up into neck and down into naval. Other symptoms can include:

  • Heart burn
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite

Generally the gas pain under ribs can be managed by taking regular antacid medication.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad