If you experience pain in your left rib cage when you press on it or stretch your body, one of a few problems could be the culprit. Inflammation in the rib cartilage, known as costochondritis, is a cause of pain in that area. However, issues such as a broken rib or an internal health problem could send pain to that area, according to MedlinePlus.
Pain originating in your chest wall, primarily on the left side of your sternum, is most commonly attributed to costochondritis, according to the Mayo Clinic. Although the pain is likely to feel sharp, it can also feel gnawing and dull. You are more likely to feel the pain when performing actions such as taking a deep breath or coughing, but you can also reproduce the pain by pushing in on the area that hurts when you perform other aggravating actions.
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More Serious Symptoms
Your rib pain may be related to a fracture or bruise if extreme tenderness develops after trauma such as a blow to the chest. An injured rib is likely to feel more painful when you take breaths or when you try to bend or twist. Get help from a doctor as soon as possible if you believe you have injured your rib. In some cases, pain that feels like it's coming from under the rib may be related to a serious internal problem that requires immediate medical attention. For example, you may be having a heart attack or heart-related problem if you experience sensations of pressure or squeezing pain in the chest that increase in frequency. Heart attack pain often extends to your arm or shoulder.
Many conditions can cause costochondritis, but sometimes doctors can't pinpoint a direct cause. However, you may be able to trace back to the root of the problem if you have: recently injured your chest, have pain in another part of your body, done any strenuous activity such as lifting a heavy box, recently had an upper respiratory illness or been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your doctor will ask a series of questions about your recent symptoms to determine the best course of treatment for your rib pain. She will likely ask about what the pain feels like and inquire about when it started, whether it exists all the time or happens sporadically, whether it is getting worse, if you have any other symptoms and if any activity makes it feel worse, according to MedlinePlus. She may also perform tests such as a bone scan or a chest X-ray if she wants to confirm or rule out a more serious problem such as a break in the bone.
Course of Treatment
The course of treatment, if any, will depend on the underlying cause of your rib pain. For example, if your pain is from a break, your doctor may prescribe a strong pain medication or inject a long-lasting anesthesia to numb the nerves around the affected rib until the rib heals on its own. If costochondritis is the culprit, applying a heating pad throughout the day and taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen can help reduce the pain until the inflammation decreases on its own, according to the University of Iowa Health Care website. In either case, you should take it easy until the pain subsides and gradually get back into normal activities to avoid overexerting your body as it heals.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.