Serious Causes of Rib Pain

Ribs are vital structures that shape your chest and protect your internal organs. They can become injured, often leading to pain around your chest's sides. It's not uncommon to feel pain in or around your rib cage.

However, other issues unrelated to your ribs cause similar pain but are much more severe than rib injuries.

If you're experiencing rib pain and are concerned about it, Dr. Jason Ablett and the team at Pinnacle Health Chiropractic will help you get to the bottom of the problem. Dr. Ablett has years of experience as a chiropractor and is an expert in diagnosing and treating rib pain.

Common rib problems

You have 24 bones in your ribcage, with 12 ribs on either side of your chest. Your upper ribs attach to your breastbone with cartilage, while the lower ribs are either indirectly attached or considered floating ribs.

The main job of your ribs is to protect the vital organs in your chest and upper abdomen. These organs include your lungs, heart, liver, and spleen. When you have an issue with your ribcage, it puts these organs at risk for injury, too.

Several common problems affect your ribs and cause pain. The more common issues leading to rib pain include:

In most cases of mild to moderate rib pain, your musculoskeletal system is to blame. The structures around your ribs may become inflamed or injured, causing short-term discomfort with or without movement. However, other causes of rib pain are much more severe than a pulled muscle or broken bone.

Severe causes of rib pain

When you have rib pain, you may not think much of it — but you should. While your musculoskeletal system is often to blame, other severe conditions may mimic rib pain but wreak havoc on your health.

You must take rib pain seriously, as any of the following may be behind your discomfort:

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism happens when a blood clot breaks off a vessel and travels to your lungs. You may experience rib pain, along with shortness of breath and anxiety.


Pulmonary embolisms are very serious and can be fatal in some cases. If you're having rib pain and trouble breathing, seek help immediately.

Liver problems

Your liver sits in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen. It sometimes leads to rib pain with conditions like cirrhosis or hepatitis.


Several forms of cancer can lead to rib cage pain, including lung and breast cancer. When these forms of cancer metastasize into your bones, they often cause pain in your rib area.

Spleen enlargement

Your spleen is a tiny organ that can become inflamed and even rupture, causing severe issues. If you've suffered an injury to your abdomen and have rib cage pain, it could be due to a problem with your spleen.

Heart problems

Heart disease manifests itself in many ways, including rib pain. Women are especially prone to rib pain, heart disease, or a heart attack. If you're experiencing rib pain with symptoms like numbness, tingling, or shortness of breath, get help right away.

When to seek treatment

Any time you're experiencing rib pain, it's a good idea to get treatment from Dr. Ablett. He assesses your pain and performs a physical exam to get to the bottom of the problem.

There are times when you should get treatment immediately for your rib pain. For instance, you warrant an evaluation if you begin experiencing pain but don't remember injuring yourself. Other signs and symptoms that signal you to seek help for rib pain include:

Any of these symptoms warrant a trip to the closest emergency rooms for expert evaluation. However, suppose you're experiencing symptoms related to an injury and aren't having any problems with breathing. In that case, Dr. Ablett evaluates you in the office.

Call our office today to consult Dr. Ablett about your rib pain. You can also schedule an appointment online using the booking tool on our web page.  

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