Rib Pain

Overview

What Is Rib Pain?

In general, rib pain makes it hard for you to take a deep breath, twist your body or put pressure on your chest.

It can be alarming to feel pain in your rib or chest wall. You may immediately worry that you’re having a heart attack. However, many different conditions can cause pain, include a pulled muscle, bruised or broken rib, or even a condition related to your esophagus (the tube that carries food to your stomach).

Sometimes, though, pain in your rib can actually be a sign of something more serious, such as a heart attack or even cancer. Because it’s so difficult to determine what might be causing your rib cage pain, seek immediate medical help.

Compare rib pain symptoms to those of a heart attack.

World-Class Care

Aurora’s Specialized Rib Pain Treatment

Don’t ignore rib pain. Many different conditions, from the very minor to the quite serious, can cause pain in your rib cage. Let our experts pinpoint the cause and suggest the best treatment. We offer:

  • Convenient locations: With 15 hospitals and 155 clinics throughout eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois, you can get care at many convenient locations.
  • Rib fracture expertise: Several of our doctors specialize in rib fracture stabilization surgery. This procedure repairs your ribs so you can potentially heal faster with less pain, and possibly return to everyday activities more quickly than you could otherwise.
  • Customized care: We never want you to feel that you’re getting routine treatment. We will listen carefully to your symptoms, ask about your medical health and lifestyle and develop a treatment plan that works best for you.

Causes

Common (Non-Heart Attack) Rib Pain Causes

If your doctor thinks you’re having a heart attack, you’ll be treated right away. However, if a heart condition isn’t the cause, your rib pain could be the result of:

  • Pulled muscle
  • Bruised rib
  • Fractured (broken) rib
  • Internal injury
  • Sports injury, accident or fall
  • Muscle spasm
  • Inflamed cartilage
  • Esophageal conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Cancer
  • A number of other conditions, including anxiety

Don’t Guess: Go to an Emergency Room

We can’t say this enough: Don’t take any chances with rib or chest pain. Go to a nearby Aurora ER. Learn more about our locations.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Thorough Evaluation & Treatment for Rib Pain

To find the cause of your rib pain, we’ll ask about your discomfort and perform a physical exam. We may also order an X-ray or CT scan to help diagnose the problem.

Rib Pain Treatment Options

The options we recommend depend on your pain level and the seriousness of the underlying injury or condition. Your doctor could suggest:

  • Home care: Injuries, such as a pulled muscle or bruised rib, often heal with time. We will give you suggestions on using rest, cold compresses and anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • Referrals: If the underlying problem is tied to your esophagus, we may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the digestive system.
  • Integrative medicine: These holistic treatments can include acupuncture, massage and more. Learn more about our integrative medicine options.
  • Pain management: If your discomfort is ongoing, our specialists may be able to offer longer-term pain relief (such as steroid injections), counseling and more. Learn more about our comprehensive pain management program.
  • Physical therapy and/or rehabilitation: Supervised exercise and therapy often can help you heal faster and prevent re-injury. Learn about our physical therapy and rehabilitation services.

Broken Ribs and Rib Fracture Stabilization

If your rib is broken (fractured), you’ll be in a lot of pain. Broken ribs are quite common but can take 6 weeks to 6 months to heal.

If you have multiple broken ribs, complicated fractures or an active lifestyle that makes recovery challenging, we can help you recover more quickly and less painfully. This treatment option is called rib fracture stabilization.

About Rib Fracture Stabilization

A few things to know about rib-fracture stabilization:

  • We’ll connect titanium plates across your broken rib(s). We can’t put your ribs in a cast, as we can with other broken bones, because ribs constantly move, particularly when you breathe.
  • Rib fracture stabilization is a surgical procedure. You’ll need to be in the hospital for approximately 5 days. Your doctor can tell you more about the benefits of this surgery.

Learn more about thoracic surgery.

Find Your Surgeon

Use our search tool to find the surgeon who’s right for you.

Get a Second  Opinion

Knowing all your options can make life's toughest decisions a little easier.

Make a Heartfelt Gift

You can impact lives and help transform cardiovascular care.

Your Life Your Health

myAurora makes it easy to manage your care online, anytime.