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Rib Cage Issues From Yoga

author image Martin Booe
Martin Booe writes about health, wellness and the blues. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Bon Appetit. He lives in Los Angeles.
Rib Cage Issues From Yoga
It's easy to tweak a rib muscle when you're doing yoga if you don't warm up. Photo Credit magicmine/iStock/Getty Images

Pain or tightness in the rib cage can be quite alarming, not to mention -- well -- painful. The pain itself may range from a dull ache to a screaming, sharp stabbing pain. What's more, pain experienced in the rib cage actually may be "referred pain" that originates elsewhere and radiates into the ribs through a series of interconnected nerves.

It's also more than possible that yoga may be exacerbating an underlying condition, rather than being the primary source of the pain or discomfort.

Read More: Yoga for Rib Subluxation

Meet Your Intercostal Muscles

The ribs are connected to each other by 22 tiny pairs of muscle known as the intercostal muscles. Maintaining the flexibility of these muscles is important for your overall mobility as well as your physical comfort. Tight intercostal muscles can impair breathing and make movement difficult.

While yoga is great for keeping the intercostals flexed and supple, if your rib cage is tight from lack of movement, too much sitting or both, it's possible to stress or strain the intercostals while doing yoga -- particularly while doing poses that require you to twist or stretch sideways. You may then find that these tiny muscles can make a big noise in terms of pain response.

It's also possible that you may be experiencing costochondritis, which is chronic and usually painful inflammation of the intercostal muscles. This is not something yoga would cause, but if you've got it, yoga is probably going to make you really feel it. Whether your issues are costochondritis or whether you've tweaked a muscle, the treatment is the same: apply heat or ice and back off exercise that agitates the area for a couple of weeks. Non-steroidal anti-inflamatories such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Alleve) can ease the pain and reduce the inflammation.

Side bends may strain tight intercostal muscles, causing twinges and pain.
Side bends may strain tight intercostal muscles, causing twinges and pain. Photo Credit fizkes/iStock/Getty Images

Noise from the Pec Minor

The pectoralis minor lies beneath the larger and better known chest muscle, the pec major. When this little critter gets overly tight, it can make you think you're having a heart attack. A sharp, stabbing pain that goes into your ribs and makes it hurt to breathe is not at all out of the question. Stretch that little fella too aggressively and he could put the hurt on you big time. To correct this -- once the pain has subsided -- your best bet is to slowly elongate those problem muscles with pectoralis minor stretches.

Acid Reflux

What could acid reflux possibly have to do with rib cage pain, let alone yoga? A lot.

Acid reflux is known in its chronic and severe form as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD. It occurs because of weakness in the muscular band between the esophagus and stomach that normally tightens to prevent acidic digestive juices from leaking from the stomach to the esophagus. When you do inversions such as Headstands or even Downward-Facing Dog, acid can leak into your esophagus. And if it's already irritated, pain can radiate into your ribs through a web of sympathetic nerves. If you've got GERD that bad, you really ought to see a doctor.

Complementary Poses

Rib cage issues or not, it's always important to do poses that will counterbalance those that open your rib cage forward. After a back bend, for example, have yourself a nice Child's pose by sitting back on your heels with your spine rounded forward and your forehead as close to the floor as possible.

Read More: How to Build Muscle on the Rib Cage

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