Muscle spasms are painful and frustrating. Not only are they painful, they can interfere with daily activities such as walking, running, eating, and relaxing.
Muscle spasms, also known as “Charlie Horses,” are the enemy to anyone wishing to have a healthy, active lifestyle.
Muscle spasms can occur across the entire body and are caused by a variety of things, from hyperactivity and fatigue to dehydration and ion imbalances.
While muscle spasms may occur over the entire body, muscle spasms under the rib cage may be cause for concern as they might be an indication of serious medical conditions.
Often muscle spasms within the rib cage area are benign and caused by external forces such as injury.
However, spasms under the rib cage may not only be caused by overextension and injury but by internal forces that are possibly symptomatic of deeper health conditions that may be chronic and/or need immediate professional medical treatment.
It is important to understand the difference between minor muscle spasms occurring under the rib cage that does not require medical assistance and more severe spasms that might require medical attention.
WHAT IS A MUSCLE SPASM?
A muscle spasm or muscle cramp is a sudden involuntary contraction of a muscle, group of muscles or a hollow organ such as the heart.
There are a variety of reasons why muscles react involuntarily, from over-use to serious underlying complications such as chronic conditions.
Spasms may be caused by an ion imbalance like low levels of magnesium or potassium, for example, or muscle overload due to strenuous exercise and over-use. Dehydration is another leading cause of muscle spasms.
According to Benjamin Wedro, M.D., a muscle that is “over-stretched” or held static for a long duration of time, will run out of energy (ions).
When this happens an involuntary contraction will occur in the muscle, creating a muscle spasm.
If the force of the spasm is intense enough, muscle strains or tears in the tendons and ligaments can occur.
The underlying connective tissue may be temporarily or permanently damaged if the injury is severe enough.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES OF MUSCLE SPASMS UNDER THE RIB CAGE?
Muscle spasms located in the rib cage are often observed in people who strain or overwork their upper body muscles.
Athletes and people who participate in strenuous upper-body workouts are more prone to muscle spasms in the rib area.
Symptoms of a muscle spasm in the rib cage include pain and stiffness of varying degrees, either sharp and shooting, or dull and aching.
Physicians suggest that one of the main reasons for cramps in the rib cage is due to contractions of the diaphragm, the dome-shaped muscle located on the inferior side of the rib cage.
The diaphragm serves two functions; separate thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity and assist the inhalation and exhalations of air from the lungs through constant relaxation and contracting movements.
According to Dr. Bernard Back Jr., at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, spasms caused by the diaphragm can be alleviated by stretching the “trunk muscles routinely,” to help prevent and lower the risk of muscle spasms in your rib cage.
Other triggers for muscles spasms include:
- Too much caffeine and other stimulants can trigger muscle twitches and spasmsLack of sleep, fatigue, and stress
- Lack of activity/being out of shape
- Medication- High blood pressure medicine can cause low potassium and magnesium levels, creating an electrolyte imbalance.
- Pinched spinal nerves cause muscle spasms throughout the body, the ribs in particular. When discs in the spine move, slip or rupture, they might pinch a spinal nerve in the process.
SPASMS CAUSED BY THE ABDOMINAL MUSCLES
Muscle spasms felt within the rib cage may also be caused by the abdominal muscles.
The major abdominal muscles include the transverse abdominals, the rectus abdominis, and the external and internal oblique muscles.
The rectus abdominis runs between the ribs and the pubic bone and supports movements between the rib cage and the pelvis.
Similar to other muscles in the body the abdominal muscles can have spasms that can occur from muscle strain, over-use, fatigue, and dehydration.
According to Health Grades, abdominal spasms that are abnormal can occur as the result of acute disorders of the intestines such as bowel obstruction, perforation, or diverticulitis.
Gallstones, hernias, and ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm may also cause muscle spasms.
If abdominal muscle spasms are caused by strenuous exercise, the problem is not serious and can be treated easily at home through massage or stretching.
However, if the need to stretch or massage muscles regularly due to cramps and spasms, consider the possibility that there might be a serious underlying cause that may need treatment by a medical professional.
Spasms that are not exercise related but are persistent or severe require immediate medical attention.
If the spasms are accompanied by green or bloody vomit, blood in the stool or urine, chest pain, confusion, or a high fever, you should seek immediate health care.
HOW DO I KNOW IF THE PAIN UNDER MY RIB CAGE IS SOMETHING MORE SERIOUS?
It may seem as though rib pain is not serious, only the result of spasms and cramps, however, it’s important to know when a pain in the ribs might be a much more serious matter.
One of the most common factors of pain and discomfort in the ribs are injuries such as falls, traffic accidents, and sports injuries.
Ribs can be broken, bruised, fractured, while muscles can become overextended and fatigued. In these cases, it is recommended to seek medical attention.
According to Medical News Today, Another contributing factor to rib pain, Costochondritis, a condition characterized by inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage, which occurs in an area called the costosternal joint.
Some cases can be resolved without treatment, while others might require medical intervention.
Dr. Ryan Phasouk, a family doctor, suggests if you’re having pain below the rib cage, you should see a doctor especially if the symptoms are too severe.
UNDERSTANDING THE ANATOMY OF THE RIB CAGE AND ITS POSITION IN THE BODY
According Medical News Today, It’s important to understand the anatomy of the rib cage when determining whether pain under the rib cage is mild enough for home treatment, or severe enough to seek medical attention.
Consisting of 24 ribs, 12 on each side, the rib cage protects organs of the chest (heart and lungs) from damage.
Ribs are attached to the breastbone that runs down the center of the chest. At the front, they are attached by cartilage and at the back of the spine.
Portions of the lower ribs cover the liver on the right side of the body, while the left side covers the spleen.
It’s important to remember these organs when pain emerges in these areas, as it may indicate gastrointestinal complications, inflammation and or infection of the organs.
MUSCULOSKELETAL CAUSES OF RIB CAGE PAIN AND SPASMS
The musculoskeletal structure of the body provides support, stability and enables movement of the body, thus damage to this structure can result in pain, stiffness, and spasms. Conditions that may affect spasms that occur under the rib cage include:
Costochondritis-Cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone can become inflamed and cause discomfort and pain in the ribs. The causes can be injury, infection or fibromyalgia.
Fractured ribs- Injuries leading to broken ribs can cause excruciating or sharp pain under the left rib cage.
Because of the rib’s vulnerable position within the body, there are ample opportunities for injury, fatigue, and overuse.
The ability to “pull a muscle,” within this area of the body is highly probable and will contribute to severe rib cage pain and spasms.
GASTROINTESTINAL CAUSES OF RIB PAIN AND SPASMS
Pain and discomfort in the rib area may feel like a muscle spasm or cramp, however, in some cases, the aching may be caused by other complications involving the gastrointestinal tract of the body.
Here are a few medical conditions medical conditions that may cause pain under the rib cage.
Splenic Flexure Syndrome- Excessive gas in the colon can cause pain on the left side of the rib cage. Often this happens after eating a meal.
Spleen Irritation- Physical activities such as running or walking can irritate the spleen and cause pain and discomfort.
Acid reflux- Hyperacidity caused by eating or drinking too much may also cause pain under the rib cage.
MUSCLE SPASMS UNDER THE RIB CAGE MAY INDICATE A CHRONIC CONDITION
While most muscle spasms occurring under the rib cage are harmless, they can also be symptomatic of a chronic health condition.
Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia produce muscle spasms across the body, especially the ribs.
It’s important to know and understand the symptoms of chronic conditions that involve the central nervous system and may be an underlying cause of persistent muscle spasms under the rib cage.
WHAT IS THE “MS-HUG?”
One health condition that might cause muscle spasms in multiple sclerosis or MS, a chronic autoimmune disease of the central nervous system that attacks the body routinely.
According to Dr. Mark Laflamme, “the MS hug” exhibits symptoms similar to spasms in the intercostal muscles located between the ribs.
Symptoms range from double vision, mobility problems and slurred speech to neuropathic pain.
The “MS-Hug,” is a symptom of neuropathic pain experienced by some sufferers. The name is derived from the way the discomfort wraps around the body creating the sensation of a hug or wearing a girdle.
People who have experienced this phenomenon describe little pain, but intense pressure around their waist, torso and neck area.
Others have described tingling or burning sensations, while others have complained of sharp, stabbing pain coupled with widespread body aches.
The following symptoms may also appear:
- Crawling feelings under the skin
- Hot or cold burning
- Pins and needles
FIBROMYALGIA? WHAT IS IT? DO I HAVE IT?
According to WebMD, fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that affects the muscles and soft tissue.
Almost everyone suffering from fibromyalgia experiences aches and pains throughout the entire body. The aches and pains can also be accompanied by fatigue.
It is estimated by the American College of Rheumatology that fibromyalgia affects between 2-4 percent of people; almost 90 percent are women.
Symptoms can feel similar to such conditions such as osteoarthritis, bursitis, and tendinitis, except the pain, isn’t isolated to one region, rather its spread throughout the entire body.
Pain is often described as sharp, dull, throbbing or aching. Other symptoms include:
- Chronic muscle pain
- Sleep problems
- Painful tender points or trigger points
- Anxiety or depression
- Morning stiffness
- Numbness and tingling in the hands
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Fatigue is also a big characteristic of fibromyalgia. Simple tasks such as ironing, working out, sex, etc., will exhaust those who suffer from fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia is a treatable condition through, medication and lifestyle changes, such as better stress management.
No lab or imaging tests are available for fibromyalgia instead a physician will need to ask about a person’s symptoms to determine whether or not that person is suffering from fibromyalgia.
EASY TREATMENTS FOR MUSCLE SPASMS IN THE RIBS AND THE ENTIRE BODY
For muscles spasms that do not require medical attention, there are a number of home treatments and remedies that can be used to alleviate pain. Most are easy and involve little more than daily application.
It is recommended to place a heating pad over the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes two to three times a day. Or, gently massage over the chest and back to relax strained muscles of the rib cage.
Before exercising, be sure to be well hydrated. Supplements with calcium and magnesium might help prevent muscle spasms. Stretching thoroughly before any exercise will help prevent muscle spasms as well.
Remember to breathe slowly during upper body workouts; rapid and shallow breathing will place a strain on the diaphragm and other muscles of the rib cage, causing overextension, fatigue, and muscle spasms.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION/TIPS/TRICKS TO DEAL WITH MUSCLE SPASMS UNDER THE RIBS
For additional information about spasms and cramps occurring under and along the ribs, check out this video and others by Dr. Eric Berg DC, who explains extensively the causes and treatments for muscle spasms, Charlie horses, and cramps.
Watch the video and learn how to prevent muscle spasms and the best way to diagnose serious conditions related to muscle spasms.