Our rib cage plays a hugely important role in protecting our cardiovascular system. Most people have 12 rib bones on either side of the rib cage in the thoracic cavity and often people can feel pain or discomfort of various levels under the rib cage. There are many potential reasons for rib pain, and it is important to seek professional advice if symptoms persist, but here are some guidelines.
Strain on the Intercostal Muscles
The intercostal muscles are just one of the many groups of muscles which connect the ribs and these particular muscles expand and contract as we breathe so it is very noticeable when these muscles are inflamed or infected as you will feel a pain under your rib cage. Normally, relaxation and/or medication can aid in relieving these rib pain symptoms.
Gallstones develop in the gallbladder, which is located in the upper right abdomen under the liver. They can move into its ducts, causing mild to severe pain below the right rib cage. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, or rapid heart rate and the pain can move toward the right shoulder. You may even experience severe pain in the upper right abdomen if the gallstone has blocked the bile flow. Most of the time, gallstones can be surgically removed or treated with medication.(1)
Inflammation of the muscles of the rib cage, known as costochondritis, causes rib pain below the right rib cage. Also, excessive coughing leads to extra stress on the rib cage and viral infections can cause a pain under the right rib cage. Most of the time, the pain will be accompanied by a sore throat, fatigue and fever and is best relieved with anti-inflammatory prescriptions.(2)
A damaged liver is one of the most common causes of sharp rib pain. Diseases such as hepatitis, fatty liver, congestive heart failure, and many others cause the liver to become infected and this results in rib pain. Sometimes blocked blood vessels due to blood clots can also cause the pain. Detecting liver disease early helps prevent serious health conditions, so always consult your doctor if you experience pain in your liver region.(1)
Most of the time, the infection and inflammation of the pancreas will create a sharp, acute rib pain under the right rib cage which may then spread to the sides and back. Eating a diet of heavy meals and drinking excess alcohol can lead to pancreatitis. When you notice fever, yellowish skin, increased heart rate, or vomiting along with the pain, consult your physician.
Acid Reflux and Ulcers
Reflux of acid and regurgitation of food will cause a sharp pain under the right rib cage, sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation in the throat. Ulcers may lead to abdominal bleeding or tearing so it is important that both acid reflux and ulcers receive adequate diagnosis and treatment.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Vomiting and altered bowel movements are signs that you may have inflammatory bowel disease. The pain under the right rib cage occurs when there is an inflammation or obstruction within the gut after having eaten certain foods. If left untreated, this may lead to more severe irritations such as Crohn’s disease which is the severe inflammation of the large intestine. Along with a severe pain under your right rib cage, you may also experience diarrhea, flatulence, and other abdominal discomfort. Keeping your doctor up to date with this disease is of vital importance for your health.
Trauma to Ribs or Its Cartilages
Any accidents or repetitive trauma and movement from certain sports may lead to rib pain. You may also notice a sharp pain develop when you complete certain repetitive movements, in this case it is important that you seek medical attention as the injury may be serious and may require a chest x-ray, which is the most reliable way to determine the seriousness of the injury.
A small part of the intestine, known as the appendix, can sometimes become infected, causing a sharp pain under the right rib cage, and this is due to inflammation and will need immediate diagnosis and treatment.
During pregnancy: Hormonal changes and increasing size of the uterus and the breasts, may lead to rib pain although most of the time this is normal, but always remember to let your doctor know.
During running: Known as a stitch, the sharp pain under right rib cage while you are running may be caused by over hydrating, overeating, uneven breathing, or even dehydration.
Should I Worry?
There are times when you may feel a mild or sharp pain under your right rib cage; this is not always a concern. If it goes away after a few minutes, and does not return, you most likely do not have anything to worry about.
However, if the pain persists or you have underlying health issues you need to contact your doctor. Also, be sure that you are aware of other symptoms occurring along with the pain so that your doctor can properly diagnose you.