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Common Conditions

Intercostal Muscle Strain


Intercostal Muscle Strain is an injury affecting the muscles between two or more ribs. The intercostal muscles have different layers that are attached to the ribs to help build the chest wall and assist in breathing. When an intercostal muscle gets twisted, strained, or stretched too far, it can tear, causing Intercostal Muscle Strain. About 49% of all musculoskeletal chest pain comes from the intercostal muscles.

Intercostal Muscle Strain most often occurs as a result of an injury or overexertion of the muscles.

Other causes of Intercostal Muscle Strain may include a direct blow to the rib cage, such as from a fall or car accident. Twisting the torso beyond its normal range of motion as well as forceful twisting while lifting weights may also result in this strain. A sudden increase in physical activity can lead to Intercostal Muscle Strain. This is the case particularly when muscles are weakened by a lack of exercise or poor posture.

Symptoms of Intercostal Muscle Strain may include:

  • Sharp upper back and rib pain.
  • Severe and sudden pain, particularly if caused by a blow to the chest or back.
  • Gradual worsening pain after repetitive movement, such as swimming, or other physical exercises.
  • Tenderness in the area between the ribs.
  • Muscle rigidity when bending or twisting the upper body.
  • Pain when coughing, sneezing, or breathing in deeply.

Initial treatment for Intercostal Muscle Strain must remain conservative to avoid aggravating the condition. Once the initial inflammation has been reduced, physical therapy then helps to restore flexibility to the joints and muscles involved, while improving strength and stability of the spine. Apart from manual therapy, ice therapy and therapeutic ultrasound therapy will be included to decrease pain and inflammation of spinal structures. Gentle exercises will also be prescribed to restore joint mobility, range of motion, and strengthen muscles of the back and abdominals. This aims to alleviate the stress placed on the spinal joints, discs, and neck. If in doubt, seek professional advice.

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