Exercising with Rib Pain

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In some cases, an X-ray is needed to determine the cause of your rib pain. (Image: Jfanchin/iStock/Getty Images)

If you're suffering from rib pain, a visit to the doctor is warranted before you continue exercising. The pain could be the result of any number of issues, from a strained muscle, inflamed cartilage, stress fractures, inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the lungs and rib cage, a bruised or cracked rib or a slipping rib. Rib pain may manifest when you breathe deeply, twist or lie prone. Isolating the reason for your pain will then let you know if and what type of exercise you can do safely.

Fractured and Bruised Ribs

If you've had a clear blow to the chest, you may have a fractured or bruised rib. These types of injuries can happen if you fall off your bike during a cycling accident or experience a rough hit during a football game. In the case of bruised or fractured rib, you should avoid exercise for several weeks -- or as long as your doctor recommends. Immobilization assists with healing a fracture -- if you try to exercise through it, you'll delay healing.

Rib Sprains

Rib sprains can occur if you twist suddenly or in an awkward manner, such as during a hold in a wrestling match. The pain can be intense and immediate, but lingers for several days or weeks. You're encouraged to rest in the immediate days following a sprain, and with your doctor's guidance, return to exercise gradually -- depending on the severity of your sprain.

Stress Fractures

Certain sports and activities can lead to stress fractures in the ribs. They can occur when you repetitively reach up and overhead, such as in basketball or tennis, and less commonly in activities that involve twisting, such as golf. Stress fractures can only be diagnosed with an MRI or X-ray, and often require you to wear a sling. You're discouraged from exercising for eight to 10 weeks in the case of stress fractures.

Slipped Ribs

Lower rib pain can be a symptom of a slipped rib, which occurs when the eighth to 10th ribs are not securely attached to the sternum or rest of the rib cage. Your doctor will likely discourage you from doing the exercise that precipitated the condition for several weeks. When you do return to workouts, flexibility and core stability should be a focus.

Infections and Inflammation

A lung infection or inflamed lining can cause rib pain when you breathe. Exercising will slow healing of the infection and has the potential to make your condition worse. Inflammation of the cartilage that attach ribs to the sternum can cause tenderness and pain, but is generally a benign condition. However, if the pain is severe -- you shouldn't exercise as it could affect your form, concentration or range of motion and cause an injury elsewhere in your body. Your doctor may discuss treatments, such as pain relievers and steroid injections, to deal with the pain.

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