Skip to main content

What Causes Pain Around Ribs and Back Symptoms?

Medically Reviewed by Cellaxys

By Published: January 28, 2023No Comments

Our upper body is supported by the thoracic region that comprises the spinal cord. Issues in any muscle or ligament in this region can cause intense pain around the ribs and back. This pain can adversely affect your daily life activities. For instance, you may feel mild discomfort between your shoulders, stiffness in your back muscles, and sore arms.

Some common causes of pain around ribs and back symptoms include inflammation, strained back muscles, back rib injury, disc herniation, and irritation. However, on-time treatment can help eliminate pain around your ribs and back symptoms.  

Your doctor may recommend you apply hot or cold compresses to increase blood circulation in the affected part of your body. Posture-enhancing exercises, stretching, and orthobiologic treatments also relieve rib and back pain

5 Causes of Pain Around Rib and Back Symptoms

5 Causes of Pain Around Rib and Back Symptoms

Many underlying health conditions can cause significant upper and middle back pain. The 5 most common ones include:

Intercostal Muscle Strain

The intercostal muscles are present in your rib cage. These muscles can become strained or torn when you twist your upper body roughly or suffer intense trauma on your back. Strained intercostal muscles put pressure on your rib cage, resulting in sharp, intense pain in your upper and middle back areas. In severe cases, the pain can also radiate to other body parts.

Intercostal muscle strain is usually common in athletes, employees who keep sitting for longer periods, and people who perform physically demanding tasks. You can look for these symptoms to know if the pain around your ribs and back is due to intercostal muscle strain:

  • Swelling in your back
  • Pain when moving the upper body
  • Muscle spasms in your back

Intercostal Neuralgia 

Intercostal neuralgia is when the nerves in your rib cage become damaged due to inflammation in the thoracic region. Nerve damage in the thoracic area (rib and back) is common and is mainly caused due to natural wear and tear, trauma, back surgery, or aging. 

Intercostal nerves are responsible for sensations in the muscles, ribs, and back skin. Any damage in these nerves can lead to sharp pain in the shoulder blades, upper thigh, and back. Complicated cases of intercostal neuralgia can cause frozen shoulders, disturbed sleeping patterns, severe pain in the middle back and chest, and low appetite. 

Some other symptoms of intercostal neuralgia include the following:

  • Muscle spasms and twitching in your arm, back, or shoulder
  • Muscle tightness in the back, especially upper and middle parts
  • Loss of sensitivity in several body parts


Costochondritis refers to joint inflammation between your rib cage and breastbone, particularly the chest. It cause a burning back and left chest pain, often starting from your left shoulder blade. If not treated on time, this pain can become chronic

You may feel more intense chest pain when coughing or sneezing. The pain radiates from the chest’s front to your rib cage and the middle back. 

Poor Posture

Poor posture presses nerves in your spinal cord and strains your ribs and the entire back. As a result, you feel intense back pain and discomfort. Pressed nerves also cause irritation and pain in your upper, middle, and lower back, including the neck.

The common cause of poor posture is sitting in front of the computer for a long time.  According to a study, individuals who use computers are at a greater risk of back pain than those who do not.

Spinal Disc Issues

Disc herniation refers to ruptured or degenerated discs in the spinal region. This condition causes pain in the middle back region, especially when you move your upper body or twist your waist. You may also feel severe neck pain

The spinal injuries can also affect nerves causing severe headaches and neurological issues. They can also cause chronic abdominal pain. The herniated thoracic disc leads to debilitating, sharp pain that occurs out of nowhere. 

However, sometimes, you may not even feel back pain but have a herniated disc. Here are some common symptoms of spinal disc issues:

  • Muscle weakness
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Numbness in legs
  • Pain radiating throughout the body

Other Causes of Pain Around Rib and Back

The issues in the internal organs can also cause pain around the rib and back symptoms. These include:

  • Rib injuries
  • Myofascial pain syndrome (muscle pain)
  • Gallstones
  • Pleurisy (inflammation in the lungs lining)
  • Collapsed lung
  • Arthritis
  • Kidney stones

How To Treat Pain Around Rib and Back

You can treat pain around the rib and back with many natural remedies, depending on what is causing it. Natural remedies work wonders in treating mild pain around ribs and back symptoms. But if these methods don’t work, your doctor may suggest you go for a surgical procedure or orthobiologic treatments that are not invasive. 

Warm or Cold Compress

If your pain around the ribs and back symptoms are due to inflammation or swelling, you can treat the affected area with a cold pack to reduce the swelling. Then, you should use a warm compress to enhance your blood circulation and reduce muscle stiffness. 

You can use a bag of frozen peas or crushed ice as a cold compress and place it on your middle or upper back for about 20 minutes. For a hot compress, you can use a hot water bottle and place it on the area for 20 minutes to reduce muscle stiffness. Repeating this for 2 to 3 days will give you effective relief in pain around the ribs and back symptoms.

Posture Improvement 

Improving your posture will relieve tension and pressure from your rib cage. According to a study, posture improvement is an effective treatment for upper, middle, and lower back and shoulder pain. You must learn to sit in front of the computer and walk properly. 


Doing physical exercises can also help you improve your posture and lessen rib and back pain. For instance, stretching helps reduce muscle tension, manage back pain, and enhance muscle strength. It also supports your upper body and improves the range of motion. 

The best stretching exercise to relieve back pain is prayer stretch. It relieves irritation of the ligaments in your thoracic region and discs. Apart from stretching, you can also do strengthening exercises to manage pain around the ribs and back symptoms. 

Orthobiologic Treatments

These methods are based on regenerative medicine, which focuses on treating different kinds of pain through the patient’s cells. At CELLAXYS, we perform two types of orthobiologic treatments:

Cell-Based Therapies

Also known as stem cell therapy, this treatment extracts healthy cells from the patient’s adipose (fat) tissues or bone marrow, processes them, and reinjects them into the injury site. When the cells are extracted from adipose tissue, the procedure is called Minimally Manipulated Adipose Tissue Transplant (MMAT). The process is called Bone Marrow Concentrate (BMAC) when it’s the bone marrow. 

Both MMAT and BMAC are performed within 1.5 to 2 hours. They are outpatient procedures, meaning you can go home right after the procedure. 

Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP)

PRP involves taking the patient’s blood sample and isolating the healing components, platelets, from it. The platelets are then processed and reinjected into the patient’s injury site to promote healing.

Platelets release 10 Growth Factors, attract healthy cells from the blood, and produce a web-like scaffolding called fibrin to support the development of new tissues. A high number of platelets in the injury site promotes early relief from pain around the ribs and back symptoms.

PRP is performed within 45 minutes and is also an outpatient procedure. It has been a leading treatment for many orthopedic, spine, and sports-related injuries for decades.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Regenerative Interventional Spine Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni


View Our Treatments
Schedule today!