Our ribcage is made of 12 pairs of ribs each of which is attached to the breastbone in the front and side in the back. Pain in the rib cage or just beneath it can come on suddenly; one fine day you are normal, and the next, you are writhing in pain. It can either begin as a sharp shooting pain, or might feel like a stabbing, throbbing or dull kind of pain just below the ribs. In this article, we will discuss different factors that could trigger pain under the left rib cage as well as some home remedies to treat it naturally.
Causes Of Pain Under The Left Rib Cage
As stated above, rib cage pain on the left side can come on rather suddenly. Some people wake up in the morning and feel as if something has ‘twisted’ under the ribs. The pain continues to slowly increase over time. In some patients though, the pain just goes away as suddenly as it had come on.
Here are the possible causes of pain under left rib cage:
Costochondritis is the inflammation of the chest wall. It causes intense pain in the joints between the cartilages that connect the ribs to the breast bone. Though not a serious condition, it can cause great deal of discomfort and pain with every breath. No one exactly knows why costochondritis may occur in the first place but it may be brought about by shifting/moving heavy objects or decorating etc. The best way to treat this type of rib pain is to use hot packs, ice compress, acupuncture or gentle stretching exercise.
Heartburn, Gas, Ulcers and Stomach Issues
Hearturn and acid reflux or GERD can also be some of the not-so-scary causes of pain under the ribs on the left side. Our body naturally creates hydrochloric acid for digestion but excess of this acid in the stomach (attributed to improper diet, lack of adequate hydration, smoking, stress, anxiety, alcohol abuse as well as drugs like NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs),aspirin etc) can all lead to heartburn, ulcers and reflux disease. These conditions can sometimes cause a dull, persistent pain under the left side of the ribs. Colitis, gastritis, gall bladder stones, Crohn’s Diseases and IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome can also lead to lower ribcage pain. Gas stuck in the colon can lead to a persistent pain under the lower ribs. This is a reverberating kind of pain that tends to move upwards and to the left side.
Kidney stones are nothing but hard calcium deposits which can shift and block urine passage even migrating up to the kidneys. When this occurs, it can lead to sharp shooting pain under the lower left or right side of ribs depending on which kidney it is. It is very important to seek immediate medical help for this kind of pain as it needs to be treated with medication and/or surgery.
Improper posture or strain during exercise
This is an important cause of rib joint pain under the left side of the rib cage. If you have a habit of slouching over your computer keyboard, Smart-phone or books, then you invariably cause a lot of stress on the chest and abdominal area. In some patients, improper posture could even cause swollen ribs and tight or taut muscles in the abdominal region which throb and hurt each time one breathes. This swelling and spasms of the muscles causes even more stress on the area under the rib cage. Sometimes, exercising improperly or too much can also cause strain on the upper abdominal muscles causing intense pain.
Cold and respiratory illnesses
Cold, coughs, asthmas and other respiratory illnesses that make you sneeze or cough a lot can also cause pain underneath the rib area. Patients with cough lasting for several weeks or months generally report this type of pain. Pleurisy can also cause inflammation of area under the rib cage. It leads to swelling and pain in area under the ribs and may be accompanied by fever. This type of pain usually goes away once the underlying respiratory illness gets better.
Damaged Spleen and Broken Ribs
Blunt trauma can also cause damage to the spleen. The spleen lies on the upper left part of the abdomen towards the side. In very serious cases, accidents can cause injury to the spleen leading to internal bleeding. Likewise, a broken rib is a very serious cause of rib cage pain or under-the-rib pain. Both these causes need immediate medical attention.
Punctured lung or fluid accumulation, pneumonia etc can also lead to pain under the left rib cage. This may be accompanied with other symptoms like difficulty in breathing etc. Do not ignore if the symptoms persist-seek immediate medical help.
Sometimes a pain in a herniated disc can also ‘feel’ like ribcage joint pain. If the muscles holding the shoulder blades are weakened or the chest muscles feel tight, then such referred pain may seem to originate in the region under the ribs.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a type of disorder that causes gas, bloating, cramps and the urge to ‘go’ but not able to move bowels. Some IBS sufferers experience chronic constipation; others suffer from persistent diarrhea. Though not serious, it can cause severe pain in the upper part of the stomach and abdominal cavity as well as beneath the ribs. Change of diet is the best remedy for treating IBS.
Pancreatitis leads to an upper abdominal pain that can be best described as “knifing” or ‘boring through the backside”. It can also cause nausea and vomiting along with a host of other symptoms. If the sharp pain persists, seek medical help immediately. Your doctor might order CT scans to confirm diagnosis.
Chest pain can also stem from heart disease or impending heart attacks. Pulmonary embolism, angina, pericardiatis are some other heart related issues which could sometimes cause a dull, throbbing pain on the lower side of the rib cage. This type of pain also takes the form of squeezing or tightness of chest that eventually shifts to the arm, jaw, back and other areas of the upper body.
Diagnosis of pain under left rib cage
Your doctor will diagnose the cause of pain by noting down your complete medical history. S/he will also check your posture. In most cases, X-rays or MRIs are not needed but these are not ruled out entirely. Your doctor will also consider following factors:
- Is there excess burping? Is the pain eased by burping?
- Are you bloated or have diarrhea?
- Is there excess urination?
- Has the color of feces/urine changed?
- What factors make the pain better/worse? For example, does urination or defecation decrease/increase the pain?
- Is the pain keeping you up at night?
Once the cause of your pain has been identified, your doctor will aim to relieve pain, improve mobility, get rid of swelling (if any) and also correct bad posture. In majority of the cases, it is necessary for the patient to modify his lifestyle, posture and bad habits that lead to stress on the rib joints. Your doctor may also suggest following treatment options apart from home remedies to manage the pain:
- Spinal manipulation
- Therapy machines
- Mild aerobic exercises
- Stretches, Yoga and home exercises
- Soft tissue therapy like massage etc.
- Posture braces to fix improper posture.
- Over the counter medicines like Ibuprofen etc
- Injections- These are anesthetic or steroidal and help the swelling go down.
In rare cases, the doctor might ask you to ignore the pain as it may go away in a few days.
Natural Remedies For Pain Under Left Rib Cage
Home exercises and stretches
Stretches can strengthen your abdominal muscles and spine and also eliminate gas which causes upper abdominal pain. It is very important that you follow the exercises as shown by your doctor in the clinic. If needed, seek help of a physiotherapist to learn the right way of stretching. You can also enroll yourself in a Yoga class and learn basic yoga poses to strengthen the stomach, back and spine. An exercise ball is also a great way of stretching the chest and rib area to strengthen them.
If you have swollen muscles under the left rib, use castor oil packs or warm compresses to bring the swelling down. Soak a soft clean cloth in warm water mixed with some essential oils and castor oil. Apply it on the swollen region for 20 minutes. Repeat several times a day as needed. You can also take Hot Baths mixed with Epsom salts or apply hot water bottles or ice packs on the ribs to reduce pain.
Dietary and lifestyle changes
It is very important to keep a track of what you eat. IBS sufferers or those with GERD, reflux disease, peptic ulcers etc must especially be careful about what they eat to avoid pain under ribs. Eating healthy meals consisting of fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help. If you are constipated, take fiber-rich diet. Also exercise regularly to prevent gas and bloating. Avoid stomach-irritants like coffee, soda, alcohol, etc. Quit smoking and limit your alcohol intake as far as possible. If improper posture is the cause of pain, change your desk, mattress etc. Also avoid sitting or standing for prolonged periods. Move every now and then to avoid slouching.
If the above remedies do not show results, seek medical help. Your doctor might prescribe medicines or even surgical options to eliminate the root cause of the pain.
If you have pain under the left rib cage, the good news is that in 90% of the time its not about serious health problem, but something that is temporary; Even though you must treat is seriously – if the pain doesn’t go away, you must see your doctor – don’t wait too long!