Eating too many acidic foods or needing a good fart is often the reason you feel pain under the left rib cage, but not always.
Pain under the left rib cage could be due to a minor condition, such as stomach gas, or something serious or life-threatening, such as angina or a heart attack. For these reasons, you should never ignore pain under the left rib cage.
This type of pain can sometimes be excruciating and unbearable, especially if it occurs frequently.
It can be a sharp or dull pain that is fleeting or persists for hours, days, weeks, or months.
The pain may be felt suddenly without explanation and even go away on its own.
It is not always easy to pinpoint where the pain originates from and why. But considering your left rib cage houses and protects some vital organs in the body, pain in this part of the body should always be taken seriously.
Understanding the types of left rib cage pain, their causes, and symptoms can help you decide when to speak with your doctor or seek urgent medical attention.
Some people prefer to seek medical care only after the pain becomes chronic or unbearable.
However, according to All Health Post You May Have a Serious Health Condition, you should seek medical attention as early as possible, regardless of the level of severity of the pain.
Common Causes of Pain Under Left of Rib Cage
The rib cage consists of 24 ribs with 12 on each side. It is jointed to the breastbone or sternum in front by a strip of cartilage and to the back by the spine.
The left side of the rib cage covers and protects the heart, left lung, left kidney, stomach, spleen, pancreas, adrenal gland, and left ureter.
Left rib cage pain commonly occurs for various reasons. In general, it may be due to issues with the bones, joints or soft tissues such as the ligaments or cartilage, or an underlying medical condition.
According to Healthline, injury, infection or inflammation may be the underlying cause of that pain you feel in the left rib cage.
More specifically, these are some common causes of this discomforting pain:
- Heart attack
- Angina Pectoris
- Fractured or broken rib
- Stomach ulcers or gastritis
- Acid reflux
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Digestive disorders
- Kidney stones
- Enlarged or ruptured spleen
- Splenic Flexure Syndrome
- Lung problems (e.g., pneumonia or tuberculosis)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD)
Different Types of Pain Under Left Rib Cage
The type of pain you feel under the left rib cage may differ depending on the cause or the part of the body it originates from. It can also be confused with the pain felt in the left chest or under the left breast.
The pain could start in the chest or abdomen and spread upwards to the shoulder, neck, and to the left side of the rib cage.
It could be a sharp, stabbing pain or a mild, dull and aching. The pain may occur suddenly and go away or come on gradually and become constant and chronic.
Rib pain may get worse when you move, cough or sneeze. You may also experience the following types of pain under the left rib cage associated with a condition or certain activity:
Pain Under Left Rib Cage After Eating?
Gastritis, indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux, peptic ulcers, or a severe allergic reaction are common culprits causing this type of pain.
According to Doctor’s Health Press, these gastrointestinal problems are more likely to become aggravated after eating or eating a heavy meal.
The pain may be mild or chronic and accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating in the upper abdomen, or a backflow of stomach acid depending on which of these conditions triggered the pain.
Eating smaller portions of food and eliminating certain foods from your diet can help reduce left rib pain associated with these gastrointestinal conditions.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage When Breathing
Pain that is felt while breathing could indicate respiratory issues occurring in the lung, such as in patients with pneumonia or tuberculosis.
Difficulty or pain while breathing for these patients is often due to infection, inflammation or fluid retention in the lungs.
In addition, a fractured or broken rib, pulled intercostal muscles, chronic pericarditis, and costochondritis are among other medical problems that result in pain when breathing.
Patients with costochondritis often feel a sharp or dull pain during exertion or deep breathing.
In patients with chronic pericarditis, pain during breathing may be due inflammation and swelling of the pericardium, a saclike membrane surrounding the heart. This is according to the Mayo Clinic.
Sharp Pain Left Side Under Ribs Comes and Goes
A common cause of sharp pain under the left rib that comes and goes is a bruised, broken or fractured rib. You may not have even realized the injury occurred.
The sharp, often stabbing, pain is typically felt suddenly, especially when you move, bend, breathe.
In other cases, an enlarged or ruptured spleen may result in sharp pain on the left side of the rib cage. The spleen is situated below the left rib cage.
An enlarged spleen is commonly caused by infection, inflammation, trauma or blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. Pain caused by these conditions can spread to the rib cage.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage and Back Pain
Pain under the left rib cage is sometimes accompanied by back pain which can be felt in the lower, upper, or middle back. When the pain is caused by pancreatitis or an enlarged spleen, it can spread to the back.
According to Healthy and Natural World, left rib cage pain can also originate from pulled, strained, or torn back muscles as a result of being overweight or lifting heavy objects.
Rib injury, a herniated disk, nerve pain from spinal cord injury, and degenerative diseases, such as osteoarthritis, may also be responsible for pain under the left rib cage and back.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage During Pregnancy
According to Being The Parent, it is common for women to experience soreness or pain in the ribs. It occurs mostly during the third trimester due to a growing fetus.
The pain is more likely felt under the left breast near the left rib cage when the baby is camping on the left side.
Another cause of rib pain during pregnancy is an increase in breast size, with the left breast placing additional pressure on the left rib cage.
This type of pain has also been associated with pressure on the diaphragm when organs in the body shift to accommodate a moving baby.
When the baby is in a breached position, extra pressure is placed on the rib cage and can result in a piercing pain on the left side.
Stabbing Pain Under Left Rib Cage After Colonoscopy
According to Health Hearty, pain under the left rib cage is a common complaint about patients after colonoscopy.
This procedure involves the use of a tube and a camera to examine the colon in patients with suspected colon problems, e.g., polyps or ulcerative colitis.
Some patients may feel the pain immediately after the procedure. The pain is often attributed to the crouching posture the patient is placed in during the examination.
Air introduced into the body is another possible cause of the pain or discomfort felt, similarly to the way stomach gas causes pain in the left rib.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage After Running
If you experience an annoying or discomforting pain during or after running it could be because of several things. They include side stitches, lack of oxygen, spinal stress, and poor hydration according to Every First Step.
It further explains that pain associated with running occurs mainly because of pressure on the ligaments between the diaphragm and stomach during the up and down movements.
Dehydration and lack of oxygen during exertion while running also places stress on the heart and lungs, resulting in pain felt in the left rib cage.
Some people may even experience cramping and squeezing in the upper left chest near to the rib cage due to poor blood circulation.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage During Bowel Movement
Bloating, abdominal cramps and pressure on the colon due to constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, or bowel obstruction may cause pain under the left rib cage during the bowel movement. This is according to Prime Health Channel.
It is often difficult for patients with these conditions to move the bowel. Straining and pushing to pass stool often places additional pressure on the colon causing pain that can radiate to the rib cage.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage Front and Back
Pain under the left rib cage felt in the front and back may be due to several health issues, including problems with the left kidney or rib injury.
A broken or fractured is more likely to cause frontal rib cage pain, especially when you move.
The left kidney is the main organ located in the upper abdominal area against the back muscles. It is responsible for removing toxins from the body and balancing fluid levels.
Pain may be felt if the kidney becomes infected, inflamed or diseased, and can also radiate to the front or back of the rib cage.
According to Doctor’s Health Press, kidney stones can also cause a sharp pain under either the right or left rib cage. The pain ignites when the stone gets stuck in the urinary passage.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage from Gas
The splenic flexure is a bend located in the upper abdomen near the spleen. According to Health Foxx, Splenic flexure syndrome, a chronic digestive disorder which causes excess gas to become trapped in the colon, can result in pain under the left rib cage.
People who suffer from the condition experience bloating, sharp abdominal cramps or spasms, and excessive flatulence.
This build-up of gas occurs mainly from eating gas-forming foods that in turn prevent proper digestion.
Symptoms of splenic flexure syndrome include chest pain thought to radiate to the left rib.
Irritable bowel syndrome is also responsible for pain in the left rib in a similar manner due to abdominal pain and excess gas.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage Feels Like Cramp
Muscle cramps or spasms are involuntary contractions that can occur on the left side of the rib cage and cause pain.
It may make you panic since it mimics symptoms of a heart attack such as pain, squeezing, or pressure in the chest.
It may be a dull aching or sharp shooting pain. Muscle cramps may occur for various reasons.
Among them are tension or stiffness in the intercostal muscles or muscles that run between the rib cage.
Lack of oxygen or poor hydration from running or strenuous exercise are also among the reasons.
People involved in strenuous sports are more prone to experiencing cramping pain under the left rib.
It further states that other causes of rib pain that feel like cramps are costochondritis, splenic flexure syndrome, fibromyalgia, medication, and stimulants such as caffeine.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage Feels Like Pulled Muscle
The intercostal muscles are a group of muscles located between the ribs. They play a vital role in breathing and controlling chest movement.
According to Medial News Today, pain can occur under the left rib cage if these muscles get pulled, strained, or twisted due to overexertion or injury.
Starting exercise or lifting weight suddenly without stretching or warming up, or playing sports and lifting objects with poor posture can result in pulled muscle causing left rib pain. Intercostal neuritis may also be causing rib pain.
The pain is, sometimes, accompanied by upper back pain and may worsen when you move, sneeze, cough or take deep breaths.
In this YouTube Video, Dr. Allan Mandell explains that intercostal neuritis can cause pain in the chest or rib when taking deep breaths and can be confused with a heart attack or issues with other organs.
Pain Under Left Rib Cage Feels Bruised
Bruised ribs can cause pain that is felt under the left rib cage. The bruising may be due to several conditions.
They include persistent coughing resulting from lung problems, e.g., pneumonia, bronchitis, pleurisy, whooping cough or another type of respiratory infection.
Pain due to bruised ribs can be accompanied with symptoms such as muscle spasms of the rib cage or pain that radiate to the shoulders.
You may even develop a fever if the bruising is caused by infection and inflammation of rib cartilage as a result of an underlying condition, such as costochondritis.
How to Diagnose Pain Under the Left Rib Cage
Since pain in the left rib cage can be caused by a plethora of reasons, it may not be easy to diagnose the cause on your own. You should see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Your doctor will most likely do a physical examination and ask certain questions to determine the reason.
You may be asked questions, including when the pain started, what you were doing when it began, how long it persisted, what other symptoms you have, and whether you have any pre-existing medical condition.
If your doctor is unable to pinpoint a cause, further investigations may be required.
This could involve lab tests performed on the urine, blood or stool to look for infection, inflammation or signs of a disease.
An X-ray, CT scan or MRI may be done to examine the organs, bones, joints, and soft tissues in the body for any signs of abnormality. In some cases, a skin or tissue biopsy or endoscopy may be performed.
Treatment for Pain Under Left Rib Cage
There are several treatment options available for treating pain under the left rib cage. Treatment is also not a one-size-fits-all.
The type of treatment recommended by your doctor usually depends on factors such as the underlying cause or the severity of the pain.
After your doctor makes a diagnosis, the following may be used to treat and alleviate rib pain:
Medication is typically the first-line treatment for pain especially due to musculoskeletal pain such as spasms or bruising.
Your doctor may prescribe painkillers, or antacids or gas pills in cases where the pain is due to stomach gas or abdominal bloating.
It may be necessary to treat you with antibiotics to reduce inflammation if the pain stems from an infection.
Non-Steroidal Medications (NSAID’s), Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCA), or steroid injections are other treatments used for patients experiencing pain under the left rib cage.
Medication may be used in combination with home care or natural remedies to further alleviate the pain.
In addition to painkillers to temporarily ease the pain, surgery may be necessary for some patients. This could be a last resort since many causes of rib pain do not require surgical treatment.
Instances in which surgery is needed include where the pain is related to a serious heart condition, a broken rib needs to be repaired, or an organ such as the lung or pancreas is damaged, e.g., due to trauma.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Rest, self-care, and avoiding activities that trigger the pain are some lifestyle changes that may help reduce left rib cage pain or prevent it from coming back.
Eating healthy foods and avoiding oily, fatty, and acidic foods which trigger symptoms of acid reflux or indigestion may be good ways to keep rib pain in check.
Some people may turn to natural methods to treat pain under the left rib cage. A hot or cold compress may be used to relieve soreness or tension in the muscles where the pain is due to bruising or cramping.
According to Health Spectra, certain foods or herbs may help reduce pain and inflammation. They include dry ginger, mustard oil, garlic, turmeric milk, and egg yolk and asafoetida paste.
When to Seek Medical Help
In all cases, pain under the left rib cage should ever be ignored, particularly when it is intense, worsens, or persists beyond an hour.
When pain is caused by mere stomach gas or heartburn, you may try to relieve it using home remedies, e.g., garlic tea or antacids.
But because this type of pain can be a sign of a serious or life-threatening condition, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible or immediately if any of the following symptoms occur:
- Pain in the left side chest that radiates to your arm, back, or jaw
- Heart palpitations or trouble breathing
- Sudden increase or decrease in blood pressure
- Fever or chills
- Sudden sharp or unexplained pain under your left rib cage.
- Nausea, vomiting or dizziness
Left rib cage pain can be frightening for some people since it is often associated with a heart attack.
Others may dismiss it as ‘nothing’ or something ‘trivial’ and ignore it, particularly if the pain is dull and inconsistent.
Though there are various causes and types of pain under the left rib cage, some of which are not due to serious problems, all rib pain should be investigated to rule out any potentially fatal conditions, especially a heart attack.
The most important idea to take away is regardless whether left rib pain starts after eating, running, or deep breathing, and even if it is dull and fleeting, the best action to take is to consult your doctor.