Ribs Cracking and Stretching

If your ribs are cracking while stretching, pain is likely present as well. A rib fracture, costochondritis and sprain can all result in cracking if the rib cage is stretched. Consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Woman stretching her arm (Image: Dirima/iStock/Getty Images)

Identification

A fractured rib will sometimes make a crunching sound if you touch the point of injury. In addition, the rib-cage area could appear deformed, bruised and have muscle spasms. Stretching, taking deep breaths, coughing and sneezing are painful if your rib is fractured. Costochondritis, an inflammation in the area of the upper ribs, can also cause cracking and can be accompanied by tenderness and swelling. People with costochondritis sometimes mistake their symptoms for a heart attack. Costo-transverse sprains can also cause cracking and the pain will be most noticeable while stretching the ribs.

Causes

A fractured rib is most often caused by direct trauma to the rib cage. Events like a persistent, severe cough or the Heimlich maneuver can fracture a rib. Costochondritis can be caused by trauma or physical strain from activities like weightlifting. A respiratory infection or fibromyalgia can also cause costochondritis. A costo-transverse sprain may be felt when you wake up in the morning after sleeping in an awkward position or have delayed pain from a minor trauma. A chronic cough can also cause a costo-transverse sprain.

Treatment

Controlling the pain from a rib fracture is the primary means of treatment. A splint or cast cannot be worn for a fracture since it can restrict breathing and lead to pneumonia. Do not perform strenuous activities, and ice the area for up to 30 minutes every four hours. Narcotics may be used the first couple of weeks, followed by an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory. If you're experiencing long-term crunching and pain while stretching your ribs, your doctor can administer a corticosteroid injection. For acute costochondritis, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can also be used, as well as a muscle relaxant.

Prevention

If you participate in contact sports, always wear protective equipment since the ribs are vulnerable to fractures. A costo-transverse sprain is difficult to prevent because you may not know what caused the sprain. If you have a chronic cough, consult a doctor to determine if you have an underlying condition that requires treatment. Limit the amount of stretching that causes cracking in your ribs to decrease your risk of worsening the condition. Do not carry school bags that are so heavy that they cause one shoulder to slump.

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