Rib muscle strains present an injury location that is more difficult to treat than other pulled muscles. Internal and external oblique muscles are most likely to be affected when the ribs are strained.
The range of motion in the torso depends upon muscles in the abdomen, back and buttocks, as well as the rib area, so any movement can hurt. Because the involuntary action of the diaphragm lifts the rib cage, breathing may be painful, causing an inflammatory syndrome that requires ongoing home treatment for pain relief.
Bed or Chair Rest
Moving the back, abdominal and buttock muscles puts stress on pulled muscles in the lower torso, so patients should take a break from activity. Rest grants immediate pain relief, which is a high priority in treating a rib muscle injury.
According to the National Institutes of Health, movement restriction should last at least 48 hours, during the height of the body’s inflammatory response to muscle strain. After that period, movement should be restricted to within pain limits. Patients should curb daily activities and regular exercise until pain subsides.
Cold and Hot Compresses
First aid treatment for a rib muscle strain should include cold therapy as soon as possible. Addressing inflammation in this manner will reduce pain and promote healing of the muscle tissue fibers, which should mend on their own.
The NYU Langone Medical Center prescribes cold therapy during the acute inflammatory stage. Twenty-minute applications of ice or a chilled reusable gel pack are appropriate up to four times daily. Hot compresses can be applied in similar intervals when returning to exercise.
Pain Relief Medications
Pain can be relentless immediately following a pulled muscle injury to the ribs. While bed rest reduces the majority of voluntary motion, all of the muscle stress associated with breathing cannot be curtailed. The Cleveland Clinic suggests taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin. Doctors can prescribe stronger opioid pain relief medicines if necessary.
Pulled muscle pain may not be contained by dosing schedules, however. Once inflammation is past, patients can use a topical capsaicin medication. The Mayo Clinic notes that this over-the-counter treatment is available in patch, ointment and lotion formulas.
Some movement of the rib cage can be minimized by using a compression bandage or wrap to immobilize the local muscle strain area. This is also an effective treatment if the ribs are cracked or bruised, as well, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Complete immobilization for more than a day or two is not recommended, however. Patients should gradually resume movement, activity and exercise as pain dissipates.