Intercostal muscle strain: Signs, treatments, and remedies

Intercostal muscle strain signs treatments and remedies

The intercostal muscles are an important yet often overlooked group of muscles that span between your ribs. These muscles assist with breathing by moving the ribs and are constantly engaged with every breath we take. However, while intercostal muscles provide an essential function, they can become strained or overworked, leading to pain and difficulty breathing. Intercostal muscle strains need to be addressed promptly to avoid complications and support proper respiratory health.

In this article, we’ll discuss the indicators of intercostal muscle strains, the appropriate time to pursue medical attention, potential treatment options, and home remedies that can aid in healing and recovery. Recognizing the symptoms early and taking appropriate action is key to overcoming intercostal strains quickly. For severe cases, the emergency room near you, such as Express Emergency Room Waco, can provide expert care and pain management.

Signs of Intercostal Muscle Strain

Intercostal muscle strains commonly cause localized pain in between the ribs where the strained muscle is located. This pain is often sharp and may feel like a stabbing sensation that worsens with deep breathing, coughing, sneezing, or twisting movements. The area may be tender to the touch. Difficulty taking deep breaths is also a hallmark of intercostal strains, since breathing heavily engages these muscles. Depending on how severe the strain is, the discomfort can vary from a slight tenderness to intense, incapacitating pain.

Sometimes the skin between the ribs appears bruised, although there is no discoloration. In severe cases, a pop or tear may be felt at the time of injury. It’s important to recognize symptoms early so proper treatment can begin promptly. Watch for pain that appears suddenly after an activity that engages the trunk muscles like lifting, coughing, or throwing motions.

When to Seek Help

In many cases of mild to moderate muscle strains, home treatment provides relief. However, if breathing becomes extremely labored with sharp stabbing pain, it’s time to seek medical attention. Difficulty taking more than shallow breaths is a warning sign, since it can allow fluid and bacteria to build up in the lungs. Emergency room in Waco can evaluate your condition, provide pain management, and determine if further intervention is needed.

Additional red flags that warrant an urgent care include pain or breathing issues that persist for more than 1 week, coughing up blood, unexplained weight loss, rib swelling or deformities, and fever above 101°F. These symptoms could indicate a more serious underlying condition, so don’t delay in seeking expert care. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when respiratory health is involved.

Treatments for Intercostal Muscle Strain

For mild to moderate intercostal strains, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication may be recommended for pain. More severe cases may warrant prescription medication to better control pain and allow for proper breathing. The emergency room Waco physicians may also administer steroid injections into the strained muscle to reduce inflammation.

Other treatment options include supportive tape or bandages to limit strain on the injured area when breathing deeply. In the most severe instances, surgery may be required to repair a completely torn muscle. This is fairly rare and usually only occurs in high-impact sports injuries. Most intercostal strains heal well with conservative at-home care.

Home Remedies and Self-Care

Once you have received medical evaluation and treatment, focus on allowing your intercostal muscles adequate rest to heal. Avoid any twisting motions or activities that aggravate the pain. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 15 minutes several times per day to relieve soreness and swelling. Over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen can also help control discomfort.

Make sure to take slow, shallow breaths to limit overworking the strained muscles. Practice good posture and avoid slouching or bending that expands the ribs. Gentle stretches may help relax the muscles once initial pain and tenderness subside. Allow at least 1-2 weeks for a mild to moderate strain to improve before resuming strenuous exercise. Listen to your body and avoid activities that cause sharp pain. With proper rest and recovery time, intercostal strains generally heal well on their own.


Intercostal muscle strains can be quite painful but are usually limited to a strained muscle that heals with conservative treatment. Recognizing the characteristic signs like sharp rib pain and trouble taking deep breaths allows you to address it promptly. Severe symptoms may warrant a trip to the emergency room, like Express Emergency Room Waco, for further evaluation and pain management. With a period of rest, ice packs, medication, and careful shallow breathing, you can recover well from an intercostal strain. Listen to your body and don’t overexert the injured muscles. Seek medical care when breathing issues arise or if pain persists longer than expected. With proper self-care and follow-up, you can get back to pain-free deeper breathing soon.

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