About three weeks ago, I woke up to a sharp pain at the bottom of my right ribcage. It was tender to the touch (“don’t hug me!”) and hurt when I twisted from side to side. It felt like my ribs were bruised or out of alignment. Coughing and sneezing were nearly as painful as giving birth.
I could think of nothing that I’d done to precipitate the injury and wondered briefly, if my hubby had accidentally walloped me in his sleep. (He assures me that he didn’t and besides, there was no visible bruising…)
A week went by. I couldn’t sleep comfortably on my right side, so I iced and popped some painkillers. I continued to teach and train, thinking that the pain would go away on it’s own. Of course it didn’t and I finally booked an appointment with the chiropractor at my local sports injury clinic. (This was my first ever visit to a chiropractor and I was a bit apprehensive about it.)
After asking me a bunch of questions (location and intensity of pain? movements causing pain? pain up waking? what I do for a living?) and putting me through some range of motion exercises (touching toes, side bending, lifting of arms up and overhead, deep breathing and breath holding), Aaron gave me his diagnosis; severe intercostal muscle strain.
He did some Active Release Therapy (ART; which hurts like the dickens), a couple of adjustments of my thoracic spine and then rubbed me (hard!) with a metal tool (which left a mark!). [Edited to add: I've since learned that this therapy is called the Graston Technique and spoiler alert, it has helped tremendously with the healing process. Check out the follow up post for details on the Graston Technique and it's use as a treatment for intercostal muscle strain]
The intercostals are a group of muscle fibres that run between your ribs. They function to expand and contract the chest cavity as you inhale and exhale.
Injuries of the intercostal muscles are usually caused by rapid twisting of the torso and are most frequently experienced by athletes like basketball and baseball players, but can also occur as a consequence of tripping or falling. LIGHT BULB!
The day before I first experienced pain, I was training a client in the close quarters of her home gym. As I backed away from the elliptical, I tripped and fell, bum first, onto a treadmill. At the time, I thought I had recovered gracefully, as I was able to reach behind myself with my right hand to break my fall, landing ever-so gently on my derriere.
Combine my chronically tight spinal and rotator cuff muscles (likely due to overtraining and under-stretching) with a minor twisting fall and bingo; intercostal muscle strain.
So, the good news is I know how I injured myself.
The bad news is, intercostal muscle strains often take many, many weeks to heal completely. Best case scenario is complete recovery in about three weeks. Worst case is 6 months. (It’s been 3 1/2 weeks already…)
Given how physical my job is and how intensely I teach and train, it frustrates me to have injured myself in such a stupid fashion. Way better to strain a muscle while achieving a personal best, don’t you think? And I’m really upset with having to take a break from strength training. My muscles already feel smaller (and my tummy bigger).
How am I treating the strain?
- icing for 20 minutes, 3-4 times per day
- taking Ibuprofen for pain management and to reduce inflammation
- subbing out my group fitness classes (sorry guys) and missing my own workouts (making me crazy!)
- minimizing pushing, pulling and reaching motions with my right arm (tough, because I’m right handed)
- taking lots of long walks around my neighbourhood to help prevent joint stiffness
Oh, and yes, I’m getting a lot of knitting done (if you’re lucky, some of it may be headed your way). When I can’t exercise, knitting becomes my primary form of productivity and relaxation.
Have you ever experienced a muscle strain? Were you doing something awesome or something stupid when it happened?
How long did it take for you to recover completely?