Intercostal muscle strain: nothing to sneeze at

This is the first post of several about an intercostal muscle strain I experienced when performing my job as a personal trainer. The injury occurred 5 1/2 years ago and I’m happy to report that I’m now fully recovered.

After you finish reading this post (about the initial injury, what it felt like and how I treated it), you might like to click through and read the follow up posts:



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.

recovering from muscle strain

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]

treatment for muscle strain

The intercostals are a group of muscle fibres that run between your ribs. Theyย 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.

Apparently not.

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?

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  1. ooh you need to knit us all some FFA BEANIE CAPS!
    there’s yer profit center, Sister.

    and I cant answer the last questions ๐Ÿ™‚ due to the indignities of aging I find this happening all the time in bizarre ways….
    MIzMiz recently posted…Lee Labrada: a dad balancing work, life and family.My Profile

    • Well, we all age. Can’t be helped. Just do the best you can, right?

      • I just wanted to take a moment and thank you for exploring and sharing info about this injury. I pulled mine surfing 8 weeks ago. Feeling like a fish out of water, and feeling about 90% recovered, I went for a surf session yesterday and again this morning. Not a good idea! After yesterday’s session I was just slightly tweaked. This morning, while dropping in on my first wave, my body freaked out and the muscle jerked in spasm. I’ve probably only regressed 30% or so. Now that I’ve found your research I’m hoping to recover quickly. And I have unfortunately learned the hard way to wait for a full recovery before full activity again. Cheers!

        • Will, so sorry to hear about your injury. It really is the devil to rehab. Sounds like taking a break from surfing for at least a couple of weeks is a good idea. Did you check out the strengthening exercises I shared with my readers? Tamara

          • Thank you so much for sharing you experience with this injury. I tore the muscles and cartilage while shoveling in November. I ended up with pneumonia and while on a week if steroids was feung better and re injured myself but much worse. The doctors put me on a steroid to “reduce inflammation” and I ended up having a severe reaction to the steroid that went un diagnosed. That prevented healing so I am going on 6 months and finally having some relief but still painful. Just went back to work last week and already regressed. This is the longest and worst thing I have ever experienced.

        • Crap that long?? I pulled it working out Monday, had some tenderness but nothing piercing. It felt fine yesterday and I did pullups. Again. Nothing crazy pain wise. I went surfing today and tried to go for a wave and … what the hell. Why can’t I breathe?

          Hope everyone on here is recovering (and that this goes away fast.)

    • Colleen Stankiewicz says:

      Oh no. I just did this less than 2 weeks ago, and I cannot be out of work, and my job is physical. I’m dying

    • I have pain like you described but at points it feels like something pops when I move what could that be

      • Matt, I can’t diagnose you over the internet ๐Ÿ™‚
        I’d suggest that you visit your primary health care provider for an in-person, hands-on assessment. Good luck!

  2. Ooohhh that sounds painful! I hope you recover quickly!
    Carly D. @ CarlyBananas recently posted…Thankful Thursday – Epic Sale EditionMy Profile

  3. While I hate that you’re having to be on the mend, I’m glad that you know what’s up and that you can BE on the mend now. I haven’t experienced muscle strain like that before, but I will tell you my ITB went nuts on race day Sunday and I had to walk (limp) my way back to the finish line. Of course I sprinted the last 10th of a mile, but it was worth it. Haha.

    I hope you heal quickly, Tamara!
    Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run recently posted…First Fridays: The Half Marathon Edition โ€“ Yours TrulyMy Profile

    • Thanks for the kind words Melissa. So frustrating when our bodies fail us, isn’t it?

  4. I wish you a speedy recovery…..and pain free knitting ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Wishing you a speedy recovery! Thanks for reminding me of the importance of stretching.
    Katie @wishandwhimsy recently posted…Go for Gold | Lower Body Strength Workout.My Profile

    • Thanks Katie! It seems to be 2 steps forward, 1 back. And off to my foam roller I be going…

  6. Oh, no! Now I feel really bad for laughing at the top picture.

    Seriously, though, I feel so bad for you. As frustrating as it is, it sound like you’re doing the right things. Take care of yourself and you’ll be back to training and teaching faster.

    I’ve never had a muscle strain. My injuries seem to usually end with “-itis” (that’s the over trainer in me).
    Debbie @ Live from La Quinta recently posted…Mandarin Orange “Chicken” Salad. Vegan. Transition RecipeMy Profile

    • I’m not made that you laughed; that was the point!
      I’ve also had lots of ‘itis’. It usually goes away pretty quickly. This strain, however, has been lingering too long for my liking!

  7. I wish you a speedy recovery!

    I once sprained two toes tripping over a vacuum then hitting the wall. #epicmoment
    Kierston recently posted…13 Week Countdown: Moving Forward!My Profile

    • Thanks Kierston! I have a friend who broke her toe vacuuming… a good reason not to house clean too often!

  8. Oh Tamara! I’m so sorry! A friend of mine had severe intercostal muscle strain from surfing and know that it hurt like crazy! I know that it must be super frustrating but you know that the problem is and have a plan in place. I’m at month 4 post knee surgery and I’m just starting to get back to working out more regularly. It’s been a long time coming for sure but I’m glad that I’m taking my time and not rushing it (as much as I really want to rush it). Wishing you a speedy recovery!
    Christine @ Love, Life, Surf recently posted…Friday Round-Up – The Ocean, Lessons, Idols and BobMy Profile

    • And wishing you a speedy recovery too (although you’re probably not feeling like 4 months is very speedy, knee surgery takes quite a while to rebound from…).
      Wish I’d strained my while surfing; way better story!

  9. Okay, I’m not as nice as Debbie, because I’m still laughing at the picture. Your very dry sense of humor is right there! I am sad that you’re in pain. And it’s no fun to be prevented from doing something you love. I think your husband and kids should do all the chores.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…One-Legged WorkoutMy Profile

    • What a great idea! My daughter is home now; perhaps she’ll do the vacuuming (hopefully she won’t break her toe…).
      And how’s your foot doing my dear?

  10. Being injured is such a downer, but I am glad you figured out what is wrong and can work on recovering. Get well soon.
    Abby @ BackAtSquareZero recently posted…Your Opinion Needed – Participation WelcomeMy Profile

    • Thanks! I’m looking at your URL and hoping that I’m not back at square zero…

  11. I’m with the twins on this one! I little couch lounging will do your body good… Especially with the Olympics on!
    Talia @ Bite Size Wellness recently posted…Discover Ground Cherries: A Summer DelightMy Profile

  12. awwww man, that’s such a bummer!!! I hope it’s on the short track of healing not the long one!!!! ps. I can totally hear you talking when you write! ๐Ÿ˜‰
    christieo recently posted…Free Blog Event! Looking for Bloggers!My Profile

    • Oh Christie, you just made my day (my year, actually!). You must know how fantastic it feels when somebody tells you they hear your voice in your words! Thanks so much for the uplift! xo

  13. Sorry to hear it! Not a good fit for what you do for a living! I hope it heals up quickly.
    misszippy recently posted…Dress rehearsingMy Profile

    • Thanks so much. My clients and classes are pretty understanding; most of them have injured themselves at some point (and have asked my advice for how to deal with it!).

  14. So sorry to hear of your injury. Intercostal pain is really miserable. Even just one deep breath feels like you’ve been stabbed. I broke my foot tripping over my son’s stroller years ago. Like you, I would have preferred it had been doing something heroic. And like you, missing my workouts was miserable. But if one doesn’t rehab right, a new injury can be even worse. Hope you heal up soon!
    crubin recently posted…Books By Blogging BuddiesMy Profile

    • Carrie, you sound like the voice in my head! I’m feeling a bit better today (lots of squats yesterday helped ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

  15. Oh no! I’m so sorry your hurt yourself but it is a little funny how you did it. I’m always hurting myself doing something like falling UP the steps or tripping on air. I’m always tempted to tell people it’s sex injury though haha just to see their faces
    Julie (@ROJRunning) recently posted…Friday Food : Triple B Oatmeal SmoothieMy Profile

    • Apparently, falls are the number one way we injure ourselves. Way better if it were sex injuries!

  16. I hope you feel better soon, that sound painful. I get an occasion inflammation in the sternal area which makes me feel like I am having a heart attack but it usually subsides with in a day or 2. ANy tyoe of pain near the ribs is extremely painful, I broke a rib coughing when I was pregnant and all I can say is that it was worse than the labor. Recover quick, especially before Fitbloggin.
    Toni @runninglovingliving recently posted…Friday Favorites-My Race Ragz Review and GiveawayMy Profile

  17. HUGS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So sorry so late – just so much going on right now with family & a friend needed a meet up to chat about things & other stuff.

    I know how you feel with being out of it. I have never been out for that long since my 20’s when I had a hammer toe prob & was off for about 3 weeks & drove me crazy!!!!

    I have had my little things here & there with the teeth & that back thing a few months ago which I worked around so I am of no help.. except to tell you I would be a royal bit*h being out of it that long! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Wishing you the quicker recovery!!!!!!!!!!!

    Jody – Fit at 54 recently posted…Mango Orange Chia PopsMy Profile

    • Thanks Jody. Being injured really does suck. And the worst part of it is I’m starting to feel really lethargic. Movement makes me feel happy and energized and I need to force myself to GET MOVING!

  18. Hi Tamara,

    I do wish you a quick recovery and try not to strain yourself at all until you are fully recovered. You don’t want to make it worse. I had some kind of intercostal pain at one time and I ended up in the ER in the middle of the night but they gave me some pain killers and it was completely gone the next day.

    Mariella Lombardi recently posted…The Jillian Michaels Premium Weight Loss Plan โ€“ Does it Work?My Profile

    • Hi Mariella,
      Oh, so you know EXACTLY what I’ve been going through. I did take some T2’s with codeine, but apparently I’m sensitive and suffered some not so great side effects (severe constipation and tummy pains and bloating; TMI?).

  19. How weird is it that you and Alexandra are in recovery, no workout mode at the same time? You can commiserate with each other for sure. I hope your pain goes down quickly!

    • Tell me about it. Too bad we didn’t live closer and could convalesce together!

  20. My husband strained his while doing a leg press. It was a week before Christmas. That was the most miserable 2 months for him, and me. It took nearly 8 weeks for him to get back to normal. The good news, his trainer hasn’t made him do a leg press since ๐Ÿ™‚
    Lesley recently posted…Shower Thoughts #222: Okโ€ฆ here we goMy Profile

    • Wow, 2 months? I’m at 5 weeks now and although it’s feeling much better, I’m still not back to 100%. Certain movements make my ribcage ache and I know that it would be oh so easy to re-injure right now. Guess I’ll hold off on leg presses…

  21. On Sunday, I had the misfortune of a groin strain playing in a charity softball tournament. I was pitching, went for a groundball and pop… end of story. Here’s my public service announcement for “fun time” sporting events: Still complete a proper warm up and watch out for 3 hour lay offs between games which will cause you to tighten up!
    Brent recently posted…Ultimate Weight Loss Workout Number 2My Profile

    • Oh Brent, I feel for you! That’s a tough one (and all too common!). Great advice to warm up and stretch both before and between games or innings. Hope you recover soon! (Tomorrow’s blog post is all about strength training after an injury; come back and tell me what you think!)

  22. Donna Curling says:

    I injured my ribs/intercostal Aug 31, so Friday will be the end of the fourth week. Doing physical therapy and would love to say it helps but so far it only makes the pain worse for a day or two and about the time the pain gets bearable again it is time for PT again. I am 57 years old and not in the excellent physical condition you are obviously in. Noting that your injury was about a month before mine, please tell me how you are doing now. I am miserable still and have gained 5 pounds in this month of “resting” it. Hoping for good news???

    • Oh Donna, I sympathize completely. I hate to tell you, but I’m still not 100%. I have to be careful when I’m working out to minimize twisting motions. I don’t unload the groceries from the trunk. And when I sit too long (like last weekend at a conference and on the plane), my whole side aches. I stopped going to the chiropractor; I didn’t feel like the manipulations were helping any more. But am still doing my rehab exercises. I can tell you that there has been noticeable, but slow improvement. So I’m hoping that it won’t be too much longer. I did read somewhere on line that these strains can take up to 6 months to heal.
      Work on strengthening your core muscles. I think that’s key!

  23. Charlotte says:

    Thank you so much for your blog! I am now in week 3 of a thoracic strain/intercostal strain. I have had thoracic strain over the years from time to time but just woke up one morning, BAM! Pain started in middle upper back and wrapped around to my sides and ribs and sternum. Went to see my GP, he said it was bad posture at the computer all day and poor sleeping position, and he threw 800 mg Ibuprofren and Xanax at me, yes I was nervous at the doctor, had no idea what this was! Skipped the Xanax and took the Ibuprofren, some relief, but after a week of little sleep (couldn’t sleep on my back or sides without pain), my hubby took me to the er. X-ray and blood work all came back fine. Years ago I did PT for a throacic starin, so I pulled out all my old exercises, ball, and styrofoam cylinder thingy. After a couple of days of PT my back started letting go, sides too, now it’s just the ribs. You have given me MUCH relief that this is just something that will take time to heal, I was starting to think I was going crazy and depression is setting in as I have always been a very active, busy person. It helps to know there are others who are going through this and I just have to give it time and stop freaking out that it is taking too long to heal. Bless you! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Charlotte, so glad you found me. I totally understand how you’re feeling. I’m at the 3 month point and still not 100% better. I have to be careful with certain movements and I can tell when I’ve overdone it the next day. Certainly nowhere near as painful as it was in the beginning, but I’m still very aware of it after all this time.
      Hope you start to feel better soon!

      • Thanks Tamara. Hope you’re feeling better. My pain has gotten a lot better but still there, like you said some days when I over do it, boy can I feel it! My question to you is, how are you sleeping? Some nights I sleep well while others I toss and turn with the pain and maybe get a couple hours of sleep, awful! I got a full body pillow which helps greatly with my sleeping position, one of the main factors I had the thoracic/rib strain to begin with. Are you taking anything for pain/sleep? Also can you recommend any exercises to help stretch the ribs? Thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Charlotte, so happy to hear that your pain is getting better. My intercostals aren’t causing any problems with my sleeping, right now. But for several weeks after my injury, I found it very hard to get comfortable in bed. And forget about changing positions during the night! I use a lot of pillows when I sleep and did find it helpful to place one between my knees to reduce pressure on my side (I prefer sleeping on my right side; the one that’s injured…). I’m no longer taking anything for pain, although I did use ibuprofen for quite awhile.
          My chiropractor gave me several exercises to STRENGTHEN (not stretch, you’re already over-stretched) my intercostals. I made a video demonstrating them back in August. Here’s the link…

          • Thank you for the video! Wow you are in amazing shape! Yes the core is so important, hence why mine went out so badly! Working on it daily now! I have lost 26 pounds and working on more. Love the plank exercises, I have never done those before and can feel it on both sides of my ribs. I’m working on getting off all the meds, really messed with my sleep. Only take 200 mg Advil as needed now. Back to walking daily again, that in itself feels great! It’s funny how doctors just throw the meds at you, and when you call and say “dr, I can’t sleep” their response, oh yeah that can happen. Gee thanks! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Wow I’m sad to say I’m on going on my 5th month from my intercostal strain. It’s been the worse thing I have ever experienced! I am a hairdresser and have and old rotater cuff injury/surgery=arthritis ,which happens to be on the same side as my rib injury which only makes things work. Can’t seem to find a comfy way to sleep with bad shoulder but feels better for ribs to lay on that side. I feel all out of sorts and it’s seems to be affecting my back now also. It’s a long recovery. I have not taken time off from work because I really can’t. I consider myself tough and have always been rather heathy but this thing is a bear!!! Good to know I’m not alone but I’m beginning to wonder if I will ever get well

  24. My husband found your blog for me.
    I was in increasing pain for nearly 5 weeks before I found out I have severe intercostal strain.
    I’d just had an abdominal operation for cancer and waited the mandatory 6 weeks before I ‘did anything’. The surgeon had given me the all clear–no need for chemo- or radio-therapies–just a brand new life to step into and embrace at the age of nearly 70.
    The next day I thought I’d celebrate with some high-class gardening. I bought myself a magnificent Camellia and then, dragging the pot out of the car, I strained my back behind the shoulder blade.

    I’m used to hard physical work so didn’t give it too much attention. What I hadn’t realised was that the strength of my whole body had been weakened terribly by the op. and subsequent inactivity.

    Used to ‘pushing through’ pain, I still didn’t wake up to what it was until I was almost bent double with gasping agony, making roaring sounds in order to get my breath.

    It’s up higher than yours. Tamara, and while I have looked at your splendid video, what you suggest looks like planned torture for me.

    There’s only pain when I sit back in a chair, and can get periods of up to half an hour that are painfree if I lie ont the bed on my back or front. In other position I can hardly draw breath. The pain is excruciating–sometimes like a hefty dagger being repeatedly plunged into my shoulder blade, or underneath it, or moving to the middle of my upper back where it rapidly disintegrates any ability I have to stand upright.
    So far the painkillers have done virtually nothing; the strongest codeine ones just constipate me in spite of my super diet.

    I realise only rest and time with some good strengthening exercises amount to the solution–but I must say Tamara that I find it comforting to have others know the pain I experience.

    Good onya

  25. Hi Tamara, Just found your site after randomly searching around for info. on intercostal strains, one of which I think I gave myself today! Mine is on the back side of my ribs and came with a distinct popping sensation/sound … the pain isn’t too bad though – not much trouble breathing and it only really hurts when twisting or stretching my torso, so hopefully it’s minor.

    Ridiculously, it happened when I was lifting my dog’s metal exercize pen out of the back of the car at dog agility practice today … something I do without effort or even thinking about it several times a week. My core strength is low as I’m recovering from another injury (torn achilles in May, followed by knee injury from wearing the dang aircast!) that has made me lower my general activity level alot from my normal amount. Ah, the injury ripple effect! And Charlotte, I *totally* get what you say about the whole crazy/depression thing following an injury!

    One thing I have learned over these last 6 months is that, evidently, proper stretching and warm-up are all the more important now (I’m 44) than ever … and that for sure I need to work on core strength. Thank you so much for the video you posted; these exercizes look like they’ll be just the ticket after a few days of rest!

    I have enjoyed looking around your site; I have subscribed and look forward to reading future posts. Hope you continue to be on the mend!


    • Hi Lynne,
      Thanks so much for stopping by (and subscribing!).
      Sorry to hear that you’ve strained your intercostals. Quite a nasty injury (surprisingly so!) with a long term recovery period.
      Yes, rest for a few days (ice and ibuprofen are good too!) before trying the exercises in the video. Better to go slow as it’s oh so easy to re-injury yourself.
      Pop back in and let me know how you’re doing, please!

      • Thanks Tamara, will do! We have a competition this weekend so I plan to take it easy before and after … During, I will just tape that sucker up (along with the rest of my body!) and bring along my ibuprofen!

        • Lynne, I hadn’t thought of using tape. You do mean physio tape right? How exactly does that work? I saw so many Olympic athletes using it this past summer and have been curious…

          • Yes, I have been using Kinesio Tape on my achilles since August and also now my knee. I know there aren’t any studies that *prove* it works, but I swear I find it helps with pain relief and makes things feel more stable. I have a couple friends who run ultras and they use it all the time too. If you look up the Kinesio Tape web site it gives an explanation of how it is supposed to work to increase circulation and promote healing … it all sounds kinda weird on the web site and I was sceptical when I first tried it, but whether it is a pscychosomatic effect or not, it really works for me! For my injuries, it doesn’t completely ameliorate the symptoms, but does make it so that I can be ‘carefully active’, I guess I could put it. For my achilles tear, (not a complete rupture though) with the tape I was able to go back to practicing agility with my dog without a cast about 2.5 months after the injury … although I won’t be doing any high-impact stuff or sprints for a while yet!

            I usually look up recommended taping patterns on YouTube and tinker with them until I figure out what works for me … unscientific, no? I am planning to try this one, or some variation on it, for my ribs:, but will have to get the fella to help me reach around on my back.

            I definitely recommend skin prep before application: shave first (not a problem on the rib area though right? (-; ), wipe area off well w/rubbing alchohol, then apply a skin adhesive – a spray-on, or a cheaper substitute is benzoin tincture. The tincture also seems to help the tape not stick to your skin so badly when you go to remove the tape later (I found this out after peeling off some of my skin along with the tape one time!) It’s also important to cut rounded corners on the tape if you get the kind that isn’t pre-cut, and to rub it like they say in the video to make sure the glue sticks well. I’ve had a tape application last 3-4 days, even with showering, but it might depend on how sweaty your workouts are a little!

            Anyway, I’ll give this pattern a whirl this weekend and will let you know how it works! I have this feeling that eventually my whole body will be encased in tape … (-;

  26. Thank you for sharing. My son (14) has had coughing bouts on and off for the last 3 months, and he has also experienced intercostal pain. Every time he feels “better” the cough comes back. He started coughing last night, and when I went to see how he was, he was in a sweat and in tears because of the pain. I will encourage him to ice up, hopefully that will ease it somewhat. The amount of school he is missing is ridiculous – but he can barely get in and out of bed. Of course we’ve seen his physician and allergist – but going into Boston to see a pulmonary specialist next (we still haven’t figured out the root of the cough). Not very encouraging the time it could take to heal, but at least I know what he is up against.

  27. Hi Tamara, here is my Tape Report!

    My excellent puppy and I are back from a fun and successful weekend of competing!

    I applied (with the help of my very patient and accomodating boyfriend) kinesio tape in the pattern shown in that link, and it seemed to work pretty well. I will say that my injury must be much more minor than yours though because by the time the weekend rolled around I was pretty pain-free, but I figured I’d stick it on anyways. My back felt sort of ‘held together’ at the injured point, so the tape was supportive in that way. And, feeling it stretch and tighten up as I moved was a good reminder to not overdo it, although I did move around a fair amount of weighty dog agility equipment and didn’t have any pain. I did also have about 800mg of ibuprofen each day, but I think I can safely say that the tape helped to keep things from getting an worse.

    So, having gotten back home in one piece, I did your 3-exercise series this morning (tape is still on) along with some very gentle yoga and I can tell I will be feeling it tomorrow (but in a good way I think)!!! Gotta keep on it!

    Overall, I still think the most dramatic difference I’ve noticed is with using it to stabilize/reduce pain in my knee … although I think I would still use it on my back/ribs for a while if I was anticipating doing anything that might re-strain that spot. So you might give it a shot, bearing in mind that my injury seems relatively mild. Couldn’t hurt, right? (Unless you pull it off too fast – yeowch!)

    Have a great Thanksgiving and be well,

    • Lynne,

      Thanks for sharing! I have often wondered whether the type might be more of a psychological than a physical support. But if it works, it really doesn’t matter, does it?
      Keep up with the exercises. They are great not just for healing from an intercostal strain, but for anybody wanting to strengthen and improve their core function.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

  28. Tamara,

    Is your rib better? Does it still hurt sometimes?

    I just injured my rib three days ago in a similar way. Well sort of similar. I was trying out a strange new kind of elliptical bicycle in back of a fitness store where they sell them. This was not an exercise bike, it was a real two-wheel bike where you do the elliptical motion with your feet, and the bike goes forward.

    The salesman showing me the bike forgot to tell me how to stop! And obviously I forgot to ask him. So when I tried to stop, I didn’t know how, and the bike and I fell over to the side, and my side went directly down onto part of the frame! I had to go to the emergency room and was checked and x-rayed and sent home with an ice bag.

    Now, three days later, the bad place on my side, which seems to be between two ribs, will feel fine for a while, then it sort of clicks and gets out of place and BOY DOES THAT HURT!

    Then after I straighten up and press on the spot, it will slip back into place and doesn’t hurt any more until the same thing happens again later!

    Is that at all similar to your experience?

    Thank you.


    P.S. I am not a regular here, but I like your blog. You remind me a lot of my trainer, a really terrific woman named Marie, here in New Jersey. She trains me and my wife here at our house.

    • Hi Ralph,

      Actually, my intercostals have been feeling pretty good lately! I did notice a bit of weakness last weekend during a yoga inversions workshop, but I’m pretty good at paying attention to those little sensations that signal something bigger might happen if I’m not careful…

      That sounds like quite an accident! I assume that the x-ray revealed no broken bones?

      You might want to see a chiropractor to make sure that everything is where it’s supposed to be. I didn’t have any feeling of ‘slippage’. Just hurt like heck to breathe, lie on my side or be touched. I’m not a doctor, so can’t diagnose, but it doesn’t quite sound like an intercostal muscle strain to me.

      Let me know what happens! (And thanks for your lovely comments about my blog! Hope you come back and read again!)

  29. Tamara,
    This has been an interesting read for me. In June I was horseback riding in some rugged areas of Southern Utah, and experienced a very abrupt and painful injury of the muscles of my left back. I sustained a severe compression fracture of my T-12 several years back and was concerned that this ride had done more damage. Ortho said no.. Bones were fine I had just strained the muscles in my back. I was finally feeling like I was I healed and then… Boom.. Last week… Snap… Same feeling in the front, lower left rib cage area. Same pain.. Just in the front ! I’m wondering if the June injury left these muscles in the front more susceptible!! I’ve been negligent in the fitness area for a few years, so I’m sure my core needs work… But now I have to wait for another healing period. So bummed. Can I use your re-hab exercises safely at this point?
    Thanks for any feedback. Feeling pretty discouraged!

    • DJ, it’s certainly possible that your two recent injuries are related. I am just finally over feeling pain in my intercostals after nearly 5 months of intermittent healing and re-straining. How much pain are you feeling? I wasn’t cleared by my chiropractor to start strengthening again until about 8 weeks post-injury. It’s such a fine line between strengthening and re-injuring. Certainly, you could start with front planks and Supermans and progress to rotational exercises once the pain is less severe.

      Hang in there. This is a really discouraging injury. The healing is slow and sometimes 2 steps forward 1 step back.

      Check back in with me; I’d love to hear how you’re doing!

  30. Guillaume says:

    Hello! I found your post very helpful. thank you!
    In my experience with this injury i found that it is easy to work the outer layers of the intercostal back to decent health but the inner layers take much longer to heal. Since breathing is the intercostals primary function breathing exercises work wonders for strengthening the inner layers back to health…

    • Guillaume says:
      • Thanks so much for those breathing exercises! You’re absolutely right, they certainly can help with healing of the deep, inner muscle fibers!

    • Thank you, Guillaume. I will try the breathing exercises on the livestrong page.

      But anyway, how did you “work the outer layers” back to health? I did not know that was possible. I have just been taking Motrin and waiting for everything to feel better! It has been about three weeks since I was injured.

      • Hi Ralph,
        The “outer layers” can be re-strengthened with some core exercises. Try the ones I demonstrate in the video that’s linked to in the above post!
        Let me know how you’re feeling! The healing can take awhile…

        • Hi Tamara,
          I strained my intercostals on my right side yesterday evening. Ab crunch machine without enough warmup. Pain came on slowly over 12 hrs. Now it hurts to sit or lie down and every breath induces a muscle spasm if it is too deep so not much fun. I did not know what was wrong but your description gave me a lot of comfort. Time to find some ibruprofen and ice and I am going to have to learn to be patient. Thanks for sharing your experience.

          • George, so sorry to hear that you’ve strained this set of muscles too. Yes, ice and ibuprofen and no lifting of weights or rotating through your torso for at least a few days (but probably longer…)

  31. “Nice” to know of others who have had this issue. I tripped on my own boot laces yesterday and fell. Not quite as moronic as it may sound. I was at the airport, they had made me take off my boots and I was very tired so I did not pay attention when I put them back on again. One of the laces got undone, got caught in the other boot and eventually…. boom, thud down I came. The initial sensation was a searing pain under my lower right rib. I had 4h of wait at the airport so I got some Voltrin gel and massaged myself for hours. The pain is still there and I am resigned to living with it for a while now – bang go the chins and dips and it is winter so keeping fit is going to be tricky. I also hit my right knee by way of “bonus” but that I guess will heal faster.

    • Atul, so sorry to hear that you’ve strained your intercostals. Don’t you hate it when you injure yourself doing something silly, rather than something glorious? I once sprained my toe vacuuming…

      Chins and dips will have to wait awhile. Heal first then add movement back in. Make sure to check out my video of chiropractor approved core strengthening moves. They helped me a lot during recovery!

      • Thanks, Tamara. It feels terrible when you do yourself an injury through a moment of inattention. It is amazing what you can do though when you are battling fatigue. I have been researching things in the mean time and found amongst other things that Cissus Quadriangularis extract helps healing these injuries.

        No chins and dips, christmas coming up. Getting fat. Yikes!

        Thanks for the video by the way. It looks good. I am travelling. As soon as I get back home I’ll try out your exercises. I guess my injury was not as bad as yours because it is feeling better already. Getting out of bed is hell though

        • Atul, glad to know it isn’t a severe injury! I’ve got a couple of fun online programs happening in January if you’re looking to lose a few pounds and maintain your fitness level!
          1) Fitknitchick’s DietBet (go to and search for my game); wager $25, lose 4% of your body weight in 4 week and share the pot with the other winners
          2) Daily free workouts on my Facebook fanpage (called Fitknitchick).
          Love to see you involved with either of these!

  32. Hey Tamara,

    I hope you don’t mind you asking you a question. The one thing I find really scary is getting in and out of bed. Bending forward is mildy painful as is going from standing to sitting but nothing I cannot handle. Getting out of bed is a whole different ball game. I am afraid that I am doing myself more damage each time I do it – to the point where I am actually contemplating spending a few nights sleeping in my armchair. Is that just paranoia? Can the body handle the repetitive injury of going form horizontal to vertical?

    It is amazing how much we need all our muscles and don’t give them a thought until something like this happens. Intercostals? I had heard the word but had never given them a thought. It also seems strange that though I got no direct impact to my chest I should have injured my intercostals. I went crashing down on my right knee but it is pretty much back to normal now.

    I like to think that these episodes are sent to remind us of just how precious our bodies are but it ain’t easy being philosophical.

    • Atul, yes, philosophy is very cold comfort, isn’t it!

      I found rolling over and getting out of bed very challenging too. But I kept doing it. It’s important to try and maintain range of motion and every day function, lest you lose even more strength was you recover.

      I did everything slowly. Roll over onto side facing the edge of the bed (my ‘bad’ side was up’). Place hand in front of you on mattress and push to sitting. Then swing legs over the side. Try not to rotate your torso. I think that sleeping sitting up might lead to other muscular difficulties over time.

      And yes, even as a trained fitness professional, I had never given a second thought to my intercostals before this injury!

      Keep up with the icing and ibuprofen. I found it to help a lot. As did regular visits to my chiropractor!

      Let me know how it goes, okay?

  33. Hi all u sufferers of intercostal injury.

    My story I had a bad chest infection for about 3 weeks, I was on different types of antibiotics, b 4 they actually kicked in, I was feeling better, but I was coughing a lot, that deep sounding throttle cough that comes from your feet, and yet nothing comes up. Anyway to cut a long story short I woke up one morning in absolute agony, having ten labours would have been a doddle, this was agonising pain at its worst, I could not cough, blow my nose, get off the bed lie down sit up , it was all agony, I went to hospital, they did loads of tests to see if ther was anything else causing the pain, but no, it was definately the intercostal at its very worst. There was nothing they could do except give me painkillers which Did Not Work ? I tried everything and can honestly tell you nothing works,. At this stage I am lying in bed 4 days before Xmas in total agony, not able to move up or down sidewaysor anyway, anybody out there with any help for me sob sob.

    • Helen,

      Just read your post and couldn’t help wanting to write and say I feel for you. I hope you get back on the mend soon. It also helps to keep my own troubles in perspective

      • Hi Atul
        Thank you for your sympathy, Christmas has passed me by in a blur of painkillers which basically knocked me out most of the time , but the pain was masked which was sheer I have soreness in the area and I am wondering if some exercises would help, walking to start with and maybe something to strengthen that muscle, I am also petrified if I got a bad cold again would this happen again, how can it be avoided, I don’t think I could cope with this sort of pain on a cold catch basis,

        • Helen, walking is a great idea! You want to return to daily living without pain, so any type of functional exercise is a great place to start. Try walking up and down stairs; getting up out of your chair without using your arms; squatting down to pick up items off the floor.

          Once these activities are feeling good, you need to start strengthening your core; belly, obliques and lower back. Follow the link on this page to the video I did of ‘chiropractor approved core strengthening exercises’.

          Let me know how it goes!

          Happy New Year, Tamara

        • Good to know you are feeling better, Helen. Judging from the way things are evolving for me I expect that the road to recovery will be a long one.

          I am now into Week 4. Week 1 was awful. I was away from home and working all day. The mattress at my hotel was soooft. Getting out of bed was excruciatingly painful to the point where it reduced me to tears. By and large I stayed away from painkillers since I don’t want to end up with perforated intestines by way of long term reminder of all this.

          Week 2 is when I travelled back home. On the way back I took the full daily complement of 3200 mg of Ibuprofen and then for a few days more so I did not dissappoint my kids who wanted to play. The Ibuprofen certainly helps to kill the pain and there were at least two days when it felt like I had seen the back of the injury.

          Not so. Week 3 I stopped the Ibuprofen. The pain is back though it is more of a nagging discomfort than pain now. About the only form of exercise I can do right now is a brisk 4km walk every day. Given that I used to workout three times a week and swim twice a week it is a huuuuge change and one that is difficult to live with.

          Tamara’s exercises have helped a lot and so to I have found is a spot of abdominal breathing against the pressure of the palm of my hand- a sort of PNF. The area of the injury has gone from being red to black and blue and now back to ‘normal’ but still very sore to touch. There have also been times when I have flirted with depression but have managed to keep it at bay.

          Tamara, what sort of upper body exercises can one do to keep the other muscles in shape? I used to do a lot of chins and dips but they are out of question. I live out in the sticks so all I have is my own multigym and some weights – travelling to a proper gym where I can isolate and work out individual muscle groups is pretty much out of the question.

          I still experience quite severe pain when I get out of bed. Was this your experience too?

          • Atul, just saw your comment. Sorry for not responding sooner.

            Sounds like things are slowly getting better, but not as quickly as you’d like. I can sympathize.
            Keep doing the core work. It will get easier over time and continue to strengthen all of the affected muscles (as well as some others).

            As far as upper body work goes, I would still avoid and twisting/rotational exercises and perhaps try performing some seated bicep curls, shoulder presses, tricep french presses, lateral raises etc. Sitting will take the load off of your core and provide extra stabilization during the lifts. I think that pushups, dips and pullups are still a ways away for you…

            Let me know how it goes!

    • Helen, so sorry to hear that you’re in pain. Yes, I have heard of intercostal muscle strain being brought on my severe coughing. My own sister cracked a rib the very same way. Have you been to see a physiotherapist or chiropractor? There’s a procedure called the Graston technique that can be quite helpful in speeding up the healing process. It hurts to have it done, but does help break up the adhesions.

      Ice, ibuprofen (or pain killers) and rest are the only other things you can do. Sounds like you have it much worse than I did (although mine was no picnic either).

      Please let me know that you’ve taken my advice and gone to see a soft tissue professional!

      • Hi Helen here again,
        Day 2 since I wrote, nothing changed, don’t think I could bear anyone else touching me, still in great pain, think Xmas is cancelled in my house, had such great plans, but all gone, poor hubby trying to cope and work, God I am so annoyed. Still cannot move. Even the loo is like a nightmare to get there.

        • Hi Tamara,
          How long did it take for your sister to get better, I am in so much pain at the moment it’s incredible. I am rubbing in difenevjel and taking soldol pain killers, I honestly don’t know if they are working, maybe the pain would be a lot worse if I was not taking them, but I can’t imagine it been worse then it is. Helen

  34. Hey Tamara,

    I first posted on this site after seeing the photo where you show the location of your injury and realizing that I had pain in pretty much exactly the same spot. I am into day 5 post injury now and still travelling so have not yet been able to see a doctor. The pain has started subsiding but on cooler reflection I find myself wondering –

    for the most part the actual area of pain is in the right half of the upper abdomen rather than over the ribs though I feel a little lumpy area just over the last lower right rib. Question – how does one distinguish (short of having a professional check it out) between an injury to the intercostals as opposed an abdominal muscle?

    • I bruised my ribs when I fell from an unusual bicycle, built like a scooter, and I fell sideways onto a part of the bike frame, something like falling onto a pipe running a few inches above the ground. Anyway it was quite painful when it happened, but then it became much more painful after two or three days. I am much better, but even now, about six weeks after the accident, it still hurts when I sneeze!

      • Sounds like bruised ribs! That part of the body takes such a long time to heal. You may have some soft tissue injury as well, Ralph. Try putting pressure on the sore area when you sneeze; it helps with the pain.

        • Thank you. Yes, I do press a hand-sized area when I have to sneeze or cough, which otherwise can be impressively painful. Fortunately, as far as I can tell, these injuries are usually not very dangerous.

          • Sorry for the delayed answer Ralph; the stomach flu hit our house HARD! Hope you’re having a wonderful holiday and on the road to recovery!

    • Atul,

      Technically, your intercostals are abdominal muscles, but I think I know what you mean. I’m not a medical professional, but if it’s a muscle strain, the healing time may be the same (regardless of the muscle) and the treatment similar; rest, ibuprofen and ice. If it doesn’t get better soon, I’d head to a physiotherapist to have it checked out!


  35. I pulled my intercostal muscle last Wednesday. I originally thought it was something related to my gallbladder, but all of the tests came back with me being healthy. Your blog post helped me realized what I actually did.

    Looking forward to reading your blog. I am happy to have found another Canadian Blogger!
    Amie @ Running on Healthy recently posted…2013; The Year of AcceptanceMy Profile

    • Amie, when I first injured myself, I was convinced that I was having a gall bladder attack too. Thank goodness it was ‘only’ muscular…
      How is your pain now? As you start feeling better, make sure to get to work strengthening your core. It’s so easy to lose strength while recovering from an injury.

      Where in Canada are you? I’m on the West Coast!

      • Today marks one week since the injury. I am okay, the pain is still present and is worse after I cough or laugh for extended periods. I have to brace my abdomen when I do most things that require the muscles to be used.

        The funny thing with all of this is that I always considered my core to be very strong. I had Sciatica 2 summers ago and have worked very hard to maintain a strong core to support my lower back.

        I am in Alberta! Red Deer to be exact.
        Amie @ Running on Healthy recently posted…POP.My Profile

  36. Thanks for this post! I’ve been trying to figure out what I did to my left side. This describes well my pain. How did I injure myself you ask? Caring a box of books on my hip down a flight of stairs while moving. Did it when moving into my new place too before I realized that’s why I’m in pain. Two weeks in…

    • Sounds like an intercostal strain to me. Is the pain starting to go away Sarah? Two weeks in was still quite tender to the touch for me. Make sure you’re icing a couple of times each day (ice not heat for a strain), about 20 minutes at a time. Ibuprofen for the pain helped me too.

      Check back in and let me know how you’re doing! I have some exercises that you could start in a week or two (you need to re-strengthen the muscles to prevent re-injury)


      • Richy Condon says:

        I’d love to hear some of those exercises you have for strengthening the muscles to prevent re-injury! Came across this post in my search for exactly that! I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and this is my second of these injuries in just a short few month, this time around it’s the opposite side. So I’m pretty sure I went back too soon last time, which lead to the injury occurring on the opposite side.
        I’m still a bit tender and after training last night, it’s a bit tender this morning but nothing major. This time certainly doesn’t seem as bad as the last!

  37. Great reading! And don’t feel too bad about klutzy happenings. I’m about 5 months into a massive (6-7 cm) rotator cuff repair p.t. protocol. It’s going great, but slow as molasses. Whatever. But last week, after the doc said I could do an indoor tri safely, I got some kind of bug, bronchitis most likely, and while it was infesting me, I began sneezing. You see where this is going, right? So,OK, one day I have a great, big satisfying sneeze and POW! It feels like an NFL lineman punched me square on right in the middle of the floating ribs. Dawg, that hurt!
    Turns out that doc diagnoses it a few days later as some degree of intercostal ligament strain. Whoddu thunk your could bust up a ligament/muscle just by sneezing. (P.S. To be fair, tt was a big sneeze. Shook the windows of the house. Lucky my wife wasn’t home. She’d have jumped a mile up.) ๐Ÿ™‚ Anyway, thanks for your extended description of your situation. Hope you have healed fully. Peter

    • Peter, sounds like a terrible combination of injuries! Are you seeing a good chiropractor or physiotherapist? I found that to be very helpful as I dealt with my strain. Tomorrow’s blog post is all about the Graston Technique; a therapy my chiro used on me and to which I credit my eventual healing.

      Still bugs me from time to time; mainly when I over do it. But in general (touch wood), I’m pretty pain free these days!

      Come back and let me know how things progress.

  38. Byron Dengler says:

    Hi my name is Byron,7weeks ago I slipped as I was getting out of the truck I was bringing into the shop{I had snow on the bottom of my shoes and stepped on warm cement]feet strait up in the air my back made direct contact with the running board,both elbows hit hard on the cement.knocked the wind out of me.I jumped up within a few seconds hoping nobody saw that.I seemed to be ok at the time,as the week went on my lower back really started to hurt.I paint cars for a living so there is a lot of twisting and up and down off of stands,to paint roofs,jumping in and out of truck boxes etc.It kept hurting over the weeks I thought it would heal but it didn’t.then the 6 week I banged it again.Went to the doc.and got ex rays and nothing showed up.Im not even sure the doc even believed me or not but he gave me a doc. Note for 1 week and 500mg naproxen and tramadol.So I haven’t bin able to work out and it really sucks cause I too like working out every second day at least.But I don’t know how long I should wait.

    • Byron Dengler says:

      Hi my name is Byron,I commented on your sight about me thinking that I thought I had intercostal muscle strain,but my x-rays came back and it is a compression fracture on my spine.I am not sure yet how severe it is but I was just wondering if anyone else has experienced this and how long it might take to heal.I am a little worried at this point.I have a doc appointment tomorrow so I’m hoping it isn’t to severe.Anyways any information would be helpful thankyou.

      • Byron, sorry to have missed your first comment and to hear about your injury. I don’t know anything about compression fractures and healing times. Pop back in and let me know what happened after your appointment. Could be that others on this site would benefit from knowing.

        Thanks and hope you’re healing up quickly!

        • Byron Dengler says:

          Hi there,yes I will let you know. Right now I’m waiting for more results for more x-rays. I should know more by Tuesday or so,but I’m still not sure about why my ribs continue to be very uncomfortable. Hopefully these new x-rays will show something,it really feels the same as you describe with your terrible injury with the intercostal muscle strain,anyways thanks for your response by for now.

          • Byron Dengler says:

            Hi there, I just wanted to update my situation. There is still some confusion to what might be wrong with my back. I had two different x-rays done and I got two different diagnoses, both that don’t sound very good. One was compression damage with possible osteoporosis and T5 and T6 are damaged. The other one said I have bone spurs and degenerative disc disease,but yet never had back problems before. Hopefully they are wrong. I’m already taking physiotherapy and I have to take 1 month off of work. I’m also still dealing with intercostal muscle strain. The doctor believes that I have it also. So hopefully it gets better soon. I can update you once they find out for sure what’s really wrong if you would like. Thanks.

  39. Byron, I can’t reply to your comment (this page only allows a certain number of replies…), but yes, I would love for you to come back and tell us about your diagnosis and progress.

    We all learn something from each others’ experiences. Sorry that you’re going through this and best wishes for a quick diagnosis and recovery.


  40. Hi, so how is your side doing? I’m right in the middle of the same thing. I was doing okay, icing, wearing a rib brace, taking time out to breathe deeply, etc. It was beginning to feel better. I began to gently test sleeping on my side again. Then one morning, because of lack of exercise (which I hated) and generally weird positions, my lower back went out for about a week. Now that’s back, but the ribs hurt again in various places. So sick of this.

    At this point, it’s been about 5 weeks, I’m not sure if I should try and stretch to let the muscles relax again – they feel like they kinda healed in a compressed way, or if I should just stop moving if anything hurts because I’m reinjuring myself.

    PS: I worked out regularly for years – I’m talking 4-5 times a week like clockwork since high school. This happened when I had to go back to school for work and spend many nights hunched over a computer (bending near this sde) and not working out for about 4 months. It was a little sore there, but I thought well, I’ll just work it out. On break, I happily went to go work out again. Wow was I out of shape. Then I did my side situps and the next day YIKES.

    Thanks for listening to me complain. If you know of any way to tell if you are in pain because you are reinjuring or just because you are restretching, let me know.

    • Colleen, sorry to be so long in responding. I’m just seeing this now. When I first injured myself I took a few weeks break for any type of movement that caused pain. I saw my chiropractor twice a week and only after the pain lessened did I start doing some strengthening exercises. Chiropractic treatment was primarily range of motion stuff, with some deep massage and Graston Technique.
      Are you feeling any relief yet? ~ Tamara

  41. says:

    I just injured myself with the same injury you describe here. Very painful indeed…I can’t sneeze or cough without severe pain (it feels like someone is stabbing me with a knife in my side). Thanks for the treatment techniques you have offered.

  42. I’m going on 2 years. I was doing something awesome when it happened and I felt like I had popped my ribs out of place. I’m a bike racer and it’s frustrating as 20 minutes into a race, I feel the same pop and I can’t breath without wanting to scream. I think I’m going to have to see a chiro. It felt better for about 2 months after the initial injury but then the next season, it popped in one of the earlier races and now it’s just with me.

    • Two years? Oh my goodness. Vera, it sounds like you really do need to see a chiropractor and perhaps, take some time off to really heal your body. My thoughts are with you…

      • Update: I started to get acupuncture. I had a race and 21 minutes in, boom. The pain was so intense I had to drop off the pack, let my heart rate drop and then attempt to come back which never happens. Then I went to have acupuncture. I have had 3 appointments and she told me the area was cold and getting no blood. The muscle hurt constantly after the appointments, but in yesterday’s race – – no pain! I will continue to get acupuncture. It’s certainly a success since I thought I would have to quit all my sports.

  43. BellesNan says:

    I’m pretty sure that I’ve pulled my intercostal muscle (s). I had foot surgery on March 22 so was putting alot of strain on my right side going up and down stairs. I also decided I would do some “chair yoga” since I haven’t been able to do my regular ashtanga practice since the surgery, which resulted in a quick twist of my upper torso without warming up, followed a week later by trying to put an 18L water jug on the cooler at work and nearly dropping it and twisting again to prevent dropping it, pretty much finished me off. It hurts to sneeze or reach with my right side and it almost feels like something is out of place. I’ve been icing and taking ibuprofen and it’s starting to feel a little better but it’s killing me to think I might not be able to go back to yoga next week after the bandage comes off my foot. Patience isn’t one of my strong points but I’m trying… Has anyone found that there are any exercises that will help this heal quicker? Should I see a chiropractor or phsiotherapist?

    • That sounds like a classic intercostal strain to me. Sorry to hear that you’re in pain. Have you checked out the companion posts to this one? They’re linked up here. One talks about chiropractic therapy, another about the Graston technique and a third demonstrates exercises to strengthen these muscles once you’ve healed a bit. Please check them out and see if you can find some answers!

      • BellesNan says:

        Thanks for your reply. I’ve been reading all of the posts and it’s been really helpful to know that I’m not suffering alone. I find this injury so frustrating… I had a really good day yesterday and most of today but I went to the dentist tonight and not sure what it was about lying in the dentist’s chair, but now I’m in pain again and back to icing and ibuprofen. I have a massage tomorrow night so hopping that might provide a little relief and I’m going to try an easy yoga class on Wednesday night. It’s weird, because I haven’t done yoga in nearly five weeks because of my foot surgery but was able to do a partial practice at home on the weekend. Even though it hurt, I felt better than ever yesterday. I usually practice 2-3 times a week and hoping that working back into it slowly will help build my core back up again. Sure hope so… this is the most frustrating injury I’ve ever had.

        • Sorry to hear that you’re experienced this nasty injury. I think it’s quite possible that an unnatural body position could have made it feel worse again. For quite some time after I injured myself, I couldn’t sit in the car (passenger or driving) for very long without the pain recurring. I found movement to be more beneficial than sitting still.

          I agree; very, very frustrating. Hang in there and please come back and let me know how it’s going! ~ Tamara

          • BellesNan says:

            I’m starting to feel better – finally. The best thing for me was getting active again after my foot surgery. I’m back to yoga, went for a massage and walking lots! It’s still injured and if I over extend, I can definitely feel it so still use ice when necessary. Also still uncomfortable when I lie flat on my back in Shavasana at the end of yoga practice, but not like a knife in my ribs anymore! I’ve come a long way in the last week. Reading your blog and the comments of others helped me deal with this crazy injury… so thank you!!! And I hope that you are healing as well.

          • Tamara says:

            So glad to hear from you! I would say that I’m 95% healed and don’t ever expect to get to 100%. I still need to be mindful of certain movements and can definitely overdo it if I’m not careful!

  44. It’s actually a cool and helpful piece of info. I’m glad that you shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  45. Well, I had a surgury a year ago. I was in great shape after the surgery but couldn’t do nothing for 6 months

    The first thing I did at work was tenonitis in the elbow. Couldn’t pick up a cup of coffee. Then I start at the gym “real slow”

    So after several weeks of cardio, I decide to do 20 crunches, and some rounds on the weight machines 25 for 50 pounds (legs)

    Woke up and could barely walk it hurt every where!!!
    Its been a week and finally the muscle aches are gone, but I got this pain lower side bottom rib. When I sneeze it feels like i’m being stabed with a rusty hole saw!!!!

    Well I ever get back to normal!!!!

    • Pat, have you seen a physiotherapist? I would go immediately and find out what’s causing the pain and how to rehab the injury. In my experience, injuries don’t heal themselves, and often come back to haunt your for a very long time.

      • Hey Tamara,

        Thanks for the concern. I went to the Doc and the VA today, and he said nothing could be done to heal it. I mentioned other Drs. alleged to have use sonagram or something to see if there was a tear, he said he never heard of that. I just switched from my old Dr. to him hoping for better. He ordered a chest xray way above the intercostal muscle where the pain is.

        lol….Some Dr personalities do not like to be questioned I guess.

        I guess I’m doomed to being haunted! Scotty please if you can hear me BEAM ME UP!!!!

        • Does that mean you saw the new Star Trek movie?

          Good idea to have it x-rayed. Rule out bone damage first then deal with soft tissue injuries. Keep in touch Pat and let me know how your recovery and rehab goes. It might take awhile… ~ Tamara

          • No not yet, I love star trek! I like holding out so when all the other trekkies are back to normal, I get to see it in a less crowded theater . I’m hoping it was just stressed a bit and not tor. I can still do physical work I find. It aches at rest, but is only severe, very severe if I sneeze! That is very strange to feel such pain when I sneeze, but yet subside aterwards.

        • Okay, this is strange, as I said I had a surgery and healing was about 9 months of little activiy. I’m 55. I’m a contractor. I been trying to do work and I’m injurying tendons. I just got my elbow tendonitus under control avter more than 6 months from picking up keystone blocks building a retaining wall.

          I hurt my intercostal muscle, or I think thats it. But few weeks before I was pushing a wheel barrow after cutting fire wood and got out of breath and rested a minute. After a heaving chest breathing but feeling okay, I noticed a pain in my chest. I was concerned, but it only hurt with I bent down to my left a bit. I googled it and figured it was tendon or cartilidge pain. Its been over a month, no heart attack and still have that chest pain when I get in the care etc.

          So today I bentdown to pick up a hammer and my right central rib cage started getting that same pain to the right of my spine inbetween ribs. I stopped and it hurt to breath there for a few. It went away. But I’m concernced now? My rib cage is fragile… wow! What can I do about this? Is this a sign of something other than being out of shape?

          • Pat, I’m just seeing this comment now. I hope that you made an appointment to see a physiotherapist or doctor and rule out serious bone injury. Let me know how your recovery has been. If it’s intercostal strain, it can take several months to completely resolve itself…

          • Yeah the doc said “soft tissue so what” he sent me for a chest xray for my intercostal pain. VA going down the tubes. Got nothing else. But the rib thing in my chest still hurts and he said “its positional don’t worry.”

  46. My husband is a chiro- I’ve had Graston before and you’re right, YOWZA! But very beneficial ๐Ÿ™‚

  47. Ow, not fun!!! I pulled a muscle in my arm once when I was rock-climbing – I reached above me and put all my weight on my arm and it HURT a lot. Ended my climbing for the night, and I thought I’d have to see a doctor and stay off the walls for a couple weeks, but it actually healed pretty quickly and I was back at the gym the next week (climbing carefully and avoiding any similar reaching positions that might re-aggravate it!). Glad the chiro was able to help you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  48. Taj Singh says:

    I am glad I stumbled onto this site. I am experiencing the same I think, I was having chest pains, three weeks ago which would only occur if I bend down, twist body to the left, and deep breathe.

    Went to the docs and she advised my chest is clear and suggests its muscle related as I was doing some heavy lifting of slabs in my garden, 3 weeks later I am still in pain and have 1 ibroprofun a day. Twice I have twisted my body and have had the sharpest pain under my left rib, which still has a dull ache every now and again.

    I am contemplating either going to the docs again or a chiropracter as doing a lot of research i think I have the same inetercostal muscle pain.

    Anyone experience the same???

    • Hey Taj,
      I had that too. When I get in my car I have to crunch my upper torso and I get this pain in my left of center chest. I think its cartalige damage. I was doing some wheelbarrowing fire wood up a hill, and got winded. The heavy breathing I think did it. The next day it hurt to bend or move. that was several months ago, it still is tender to move, but not as bad. Also I got that intercostal muscle pain a few weeks later. Prior to, and following a surgery, I was not able to to do physical work for about 9 months. When I was able to go back to work, I’m a contractor, I kept injuring myself, elbow tendonitus, and the rib related injuries. I am slowly trying to get back into shape, but it is difficult. 55 and starting to feel it. My only bills are uncle sam, and he could care less about disability! Don’t get injured, its a catch 22! You don’t qualify for “fresh start” if you can’t start! Good luck.

      • Taj Singh says:

        Hey Pat, sorry to hear about that buddy. I am 34 and its happened to me now!!! guess i am gonna have to go to the doctors again for them to refer me to the hospital for an xray as I am still afraid it maybe something else.

        Just wish I could go back in time and not do any blimen housework….I will feedback to you and let you know how I get on. I like the chiro idea and may go to see a doc…

        • Well, I did that, and really nothing they could do, it really doesn’t show up I don’t think, a waste of half life from radiation poisening! It will go away. I had this before, takes a year or more.

          • Taj Singh says:


            Doc has given me an appt. for a ECG – Chest pain has now gone, rib pain has gone but my neck is throbbing at the moment, had a healing massage on the weekend which helped.

            Never again am I going to do strenuous work again ever!!! I will let you know the results of my ECG soon. Who knows maybe its the air con at work…


            Taj M

          • Taj Singh says:


            All I have just had my ECG and she said everything appears normal but my doc will give me a full report in two weeks time.

            Still have neck pain which is annoying as heck!!!

            Is this intercostal muscle related???


          • Taj Singh says:

            Hello all, sorry me again….

            I had a phone call from the surgery by the receptionist who says the doc wants to discuss my ECG results over the phone tomorrow….Can anyone advise if this is normal – I thought they only call you if something is wrong…

            Please help anyone as i am stressing like crazy!!!


  49. Hi I think I have injured my intercostal muscle, I do pole dancing and I know I did not injure myself in class, at work instead of getting up to fetch things I stretch and twist my body to get them instead, I started to feel like the part right at the start of my ribcage on my back felt really bruised but last night I. Coughed and felt this cracking sound and from there it became extremely painful, I can’t breath or cough then it hurts so much I can’t do anything, will it take long to recover?

    • OOOH I know that feeling. Took a few months. I didnt feel a crack just I nobiced like a slight bruize, and when I sneezed, GOD OLE MIGHTY! I didn’t lay low, other than gingerly moving when I felt it tug during work…but it went away after a few months good luck ouch! Don’t ya hate that one?

    • It may. Just depends on how severely you’ve strained it.
      I recommend seeing a physiotherapist immediately; get a proper diagnosis and suggestions for rehab. I was nearly a year before my rib cage was back to normal…

  50. Interesting read, as I have been searching for info on this… 3 weeks ago I woke up and could hardly move due to the pain in my lower left rib. I didn’t remember bashing it so couldn’t believe it was a broken rib, but a family member who is in fitness suggested intercostal muscle strain. I had spent most of the day before throwing my younger family members around in the swimming pool and giving piggy backs so maybe that did it?

    3 weeks later, I still can’t sleep on my left side or on my front… so surprised it is taking this long to heal! I may try some of your tips, thanks!

    • Charlie, that’s interesting. I felt the same way when I injured myself. I had to think long and hard about what had happened the day before to understand why I was in excruciating pain upon waking up. Your water activities sound like just the thing for generating an intercostal strain; rapid, twisting or rotational movement!

      I can’t recommend seeing a professional (physiotherapist or chiropractor) enough. Some injuries need a little help in healing ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Please come back and tell me how you’re doing! ~ Tamara

  51. So, I just finished 16 pt sessions for two herniated discs in my neck. Other than some continued weakness in my right hand, I felt great. So, I started playing racquetball again. Well, yesterday during the 2nd game, I lunged for a ball and felt a pop in my right side just under my rib cage. It was a sharp pain but it subsided pretty fast so I kept playing. A few ponts later I jumped to hit an overhand smash and when I stretched my arm above my head it felt like someone stabbed me in the side with a large knife. Intense pain. I iced it last night and took some naproxen. I had a hard time sleeping, and getting out of bed was extremely painful. The pain is the same today. Coughing hurts a lot and I almost passed out after a hard sneeze. It is pretty obvious I did something significant. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain but I think I’m going to need to see a doc about this one.

  52. Hi,
    I have had an intercostal strain on and off since February 2012. I can’t even do any light cardio as it bothers the injury site. i don’t have much pain just persistent discomfort. How are you doing now? I have a physio doc but only things he’s prescribed is rest and anti-inflammatory meds. I feel like both are not really working because it won’t go away. You’re right, the rib area is so easily re-aggravated. Basic housework bothers me…i just want to go back to the gym ๐Ÿ™

    • Hi Kim,
      Yikes! Still in pain after 8 months? Have you tried seeing a chiropractor? You might ask him/her to try Graston technique on you (there’s a link to a post I wrote about it in the post you’ve seen). I found it a very helpful treatment and am looking at trying it for my current Achilles injury. The most difficult thing about intercostal strain is trying to rest it; the intercostals are used every time you breathe.

      Come back and tell me how it’s going? ~ Tamara

  53. Ok, this must be what I’m dealing with. I think it happened from excessive repetitive coughing (bronchitis-talk about adding insult to injury)! I noticed it Sunday morning. Took 3 days off. Just tried a cardio mix workout and about died! You recommend taking how long off? This sucks. I’m training for another half marathon. Ugh!

  54. I’ve got similar symptoms after taking a hard fall on my bike. It’s not easy to get in and out of bed even one week later.

    The strange thing I have noticed is:
    When I’m about to sneeze the sneeze goes away entirely. As if my body knows,”hey that’s going to hurt let’s not let this happen.”

    Any idea why the sneeze goes away?

  55. Madison says:

    I caught pneumonia, and the coughing caused my intercostal muscles to bruise. I’d say that is a pretty horrible way to do it. So stupid.

    • Ugh. Madison I feel for you. I’m on day 12 of a chest cold and the cough is almost serious enough to bruise my rib cage. What are you doing to heal?

  56. Awesome post, have done same playing rugby. Delighted to hear it can be treated, devastated to hear how long it can take to heal. Triathlon season is closing in so I cannot take time off. Dang

  57. Ashleigh says:

    Iv done this four times now and it has only occurred since having a baby. I manage to do it when I turn over in bed. Usually when my whole body is twisted. I did it last night and I actually felt the muscle go ping! And I was in instant agony. Iv been told iv torn the intercostal muscle and the doctor can’t do anything for me even though I can barely breathe without crying!!
    You have given me hope that I can get some advice from a chairopractor!!
    Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ashleigh, I have heard of pregnant women being more likely to strain their intercostals. I think it’s a combination of stretching of the ligaments and muscles as pregnancy advances and the increased laxity of joints that’s the body’s natural way of preparing for childbirth. Please let me know what your chiropractor says!

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  59. Tamara, thanks for your BLOG. I found it while searching for information about an injured rib cage (strained intercostal muscles). My injury occurred in a similar way… I do circuit weight training with dumbbells and barbells and this past Thursday, working with dumbbells, I decided to do a squat/overhead press combination and during my second set, being a bit winded, I lost my balance on the overhead press and stumbled with the weight. I continued my workout of 3 sets and that afternoon I noticed what felt like a side stitch on my left side. That evening, I went to the golf range and hit about 50 balls with no pain. The next day, it still felt like a side stitch and was a little tender but didn’t affect my heavy barbell workout. However, that night, the tenderness and pain grew worse. I’m bummed that I won’t be able to continue my workouts for a while, or worst of all, that I may not be able to play golf. I’m treating with ice, ibuprofen, and a bit of stretching with rest believing I will recover quickly.

  60. Karen McClary says:

    I have experienced chronic pain since 1908 due to an injury at t8-t9 but recently have not had any relief of my diaphragm and ribs – it is taking me to my knees – I cannot eat, work etc.. It’s all I can do to keep breathing – brutal! What do I need to do?

    • Tamara says:

      Karen, I can’t prescribe any remedy for you over the internet, as I’m not a doctor. Have you been to see yours? Or a physiotherapist or chiropractor to see if they can help?

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  62. Jonathan McGuire says:

    I have been working out hard for 6 months straight. I have gained muscle and lost 57lbs. I was doing crutches with 190 lbs. So I thought i was getting in really good shape. All it took was one swing of a golf club and it changed everything. I cant breath, sit, lay down, sit up, reach sneeze and yawn with out the pain. So ready about the lack of stretching is pretty much where I went wrong. I am only into my second week of a long recovery. I still use the elliptical and it is pain free for me! So i will have to be satisfied with that for a while!

    • Jonathan, I hate hearing about this injury. It’s surprisingly common and takes awhile to recover from. Stretching isn’t the only thing that can help prevent it. What you really need to do is strengthen your core. In all planes of motion; forward, side to side and cross body. It’s the rotational piece that trips most people up. Hence your injury while golfing… Come back and let us know how you’re doing, okay?

  63. I’ve been dealing with intercostal muscle strain for almost 4 months now. I can only describe it as an ever present dull ache in my left ribs that worsens whenever I take a slightly deep breath. I’m getting worried because it’s been so long and I’m starting to think it will never fully heal.

    I’m also worried by the fact that my rib appears to poke out more than I remembered. But I’m not sure. I’ve seen two doctors and they both said to just take it easy for a couple months… but that was 3 months ago. I just don’t know what to do, it’s set me back in my exercising for too long.

    Thanks for listening and any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Greg, have you seen anybody other than you doctor? In my experience, injuries like this aren’t well understood by GP’s. Try going to a physiotherapist or chiropractor who can prescribe specific stretches and strength exercises to help you heal. Apparently, scar tissue build-up is also a concern. My chiropractor used Graston Technique to help break it down. Have you read the two followup articles I posted? I’ve linked to them at the bottom of the blog post itself.

      Come back and let me know how it’s going, okay?

      • Thank you for the quick response. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I’ve only seen regular doctors, so I’ll try and see a physiotherapist soon.

        One question: Did you ever get imaging/x-rays done on the area? I’m considering having it done just to rule out any more serious damage but I’m not sure if its necessary. Thanks again.

  64. Oh god. I’m checking out this site as I’m going through the same pain now.
    Lt. Sided intercostal strain after dusting the heavy blanket. And I heard crunchy sound (not audible but more painful jerk). It got worse after having some work. Deep breath makes it worse. Terrible pain and it stopped diaphragm muscle to relax and couldn’t breath properly due to pain.

    Hope we both will have a speedy recovery.


  65. One thing is true about the sneeze.
    It goes away because if motor system of neuron. Whenever I about to sneeze it stops and goes away as it knows that I am gonna be screwed if I sneeze. Oh. I hate this pain. It even stops me from taking glass of water with affected side.

  66. Hello Tamara –

    It’s been years since you’ve posted this, so I hope you’ve recovered well. I was told by a doctor that this may be an issue I have, though not nearly as severe and I was wondering – Did you ever experience pain after eating a full/large meal?

    I’m hoping I recuperate quickly, but it’s been months now.


    • Tadeo, no, I can’t say that I did. But perhaps my meals aren’t large enough to trigger pain in that area? Try eating smaller, more frequent meals to avoid putting excessive pressure on your rib cage. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

  67. Hi Tamara comment

    Thanks for this post I really got a lot out of it and the comments.

    it appears that I had a similar injury. and I think I have an intercostal strain I was surfing for two days in a row after a long hiatus from surfing. I’m a pretty fit guy but I’m 50 years old. The night after the second day of long surfing many waves and twisting and turning, I noticed some back strain and pain in my upper back and my lower left rib. The pain is sometimes in the back and sometimes in the front of the lower left rib are.

    I’ve found that sitting and bending over the only things that really worsen it. And so what I’ve been doing is not sitting! I’m lying down or walking or standing. that seems to help. I’ve gotten two x-rays one of my spine and one of my rib, both negative. I’ve seen a chiropractor twice and she said two of my ribs appeared to be misaligned and may have been pulled out of place by a muscle strain. so she put them back into place.

    It’s been 4 1/2 weeks now and it’s definitely got better. although I sometimes think that it’s just because I’m not sitting and exacerbating it. your posts indicating that recovery may take a while have been really helpful psychologically for me.

    I think I’m now going to try some ART I have a referral to a DO.

    Question I have for you is: have you heard of this pain being something that is intermittent only, is worsened by sitting or leaning over and is not associated with pain on breathing?

    How long does it actually take you to recover from your injury?

    Nice job with the website and I’ll definitely be coming back to your site.

    • Hmm, for me, the pain was anything but intermittent! Fairly intense and constant while I was in the thick of things.
      It took me about 8 months to heal (nearly) completely. Only about 4 weeks before I was back to strength training, but being very careful of rotational movements and not overloading.

      I still feel twinges from time to time; that reminds me that I probably haven’t done my chiropractor-approved strengthening exercises for awhile…

  68. Pablo Mรผller says:

    Hi Tamara,

    I posted a comment on another entry and I reproduce it again, just in case it helps somebody. I would like to add another thing. I also started sleeping only on the good side, which lead to a clear asymmetry of my neck muscles (being that my head is tilted every night only to one side). I had to “learn” to try to sleep on my back, which is hailed anyway as beneficial, so there’s the silver lining.

    Now, what I already mentioned: I started doing foot massage and found one particular muscle that was strained/painful. And I also noticed that as I walked I was clearly using my strained foot in a different fashion (my step had hyperpronation). Coincidentally it was the last interosseous muscle of the right foot, and my intercostal muscle that hurts is the last intercostal also of the right side. Have you heard before how a part from your feet is related to a part of your whole body? Well, I started treating my right foot with ice and cross friction massage, and somehow my intercostal rib muscle has been alleviated. Maybe it’s just a funny coincidence, but knowing how one is desperate when nobody seems to know about what affects you, I thought mentioning this. If anybody out there would inspect how their feet are doing, and if they found some funny asymmetry, I would love to have some feedback. In my case it rings a bell, because close before I strained my rib muscle, I had a tendinitis on my right leg, which presumably led to me changed the way i stepped on my right foot and so on.

    Good luck to all!


    • Pablo, I’m a firm believer in the notion that our bodies function as a single unit. When one muscle/joint isn’t working properly, other muscles/joints compensate or take on a function that they’re not primarily designed for. Somewhere down the road the injury manifests itself.

      I’m happy to hear that you’re on the way to resolving your injury! ~ Tamara

  69. Day Marie says:

    I think I strained my intercostal muscles. Your blog really helped me identify what I can do to help the healing process. I know when I injured it but didn’t think anything of it until I tried to lay on my right side that night. I felt soreness throughout the day but didn’t give it much thought. This is how I injured myself. I was leaning over the back seat of my SUV to retrieve something and in doing so rolled onto my rib area on the right. I felt a slight pull at that moment and wondered what I may have done. Luckily I don’t have soreness and pain when breathing. I hate not being able to exercise or weight train. I’ll just do more crocheting to rest & relax but keep walking and more of it until my side heals.
    Enjoyed your blog!

  70. Dear Tamara.

    I’m not sure if I am on a site that deals with men having rib damage, but here goes I was working on my raised garden next to the house wall which has a path about eighteen inches wide mainly removing ivy that had overtaken the house, I had just completed when I had a bit of root still attached I pulled at it but lost my balance turned to grab something to stop my fall but all there was, was an old fuchsia bush obviously not enough as I went through it and fell done the main slope bashing my right side ribs, then rolled down the bulk of the rock wall about six foot landing on a concrete gully bashing my right back ribs, eventually finishing on my back and having the back of my head hitting the edge of the gully, its been seven weeks now but I still have pain in both rib areas it feels mostly inside that’s the only way to say it, I reach out with my right arm and get a pulling pain, getting out of bed is the same, do you think I might have damaged my intercostal muscles or something more disastrous, my hospital would not X-ray or CT scan or MRI scan as its against their policy, they will not strap me up either only gave me ibuprofen gel and Paracetamol tabs and codeine tabs, I am sorry for the inconvenience if I contacted you in error.
    Best regards, James.

    • James, how terrible! Understand that it’s beyond my scope of practice to diagnose any type of injury. I would suggest that you find another medical professional to take a look. If not a doctor, then a physiotherapist or chiropractor. Good luck! Tamara

  71. A few years ago I was in the crunch position and suddenly had an overwhelming pain in my ribs to the left of my sternum. It felt like my ribs were crossed and I had to stand up and stretch my torso before the sharp pain started to go away. After that for a few weeks it was a little uncomfortable, like a bruise, then went away. At least a year later it happened again. Now it seems to happen frequently and never feels totally healed. It had happened at the gym doing concentration curls and other times doing ab work. It is so painful when it happens, but that sharp pain never lasts long… but like I said, I’m left with a nagging bruised type of feeling that lingers for days or weeks. I still work out, but don’t do ab work out anything where I have to twist my torso. I have no back pain. When I tell someone thati it feels like my ribs are crossing over each other, I get looked at like I’m nuts. Has anyone heard of this?

    • Millie, apologies for not responding earlier. It seems as if nobody else in this thread has experienced what you have either. I’d sternly suggest a trip to the physiotherapist to rule out any underlying conditions. Always best to know what’s causing pain before you treat! Let me know how it turns out! Tamara

  72. Hi. I just ran into this researching intercostal strain. I am completely out of shape. A good 60 pounds overweight after 4 kids. I decided to start a couch to 5 k running program of sorts. But after only a few days I have a near constant pain in my left lower rib that wraps, around to my back muscle and up my shoulder blade. I just went to the chiropractor and she relieved the pain temporarily but I am very discouraged. I loved running. Well whatever I was attempting anyway. I never fell or anything but my husband and I were lifting some pretty heavy wood for garden planters with a twisting motion before all of this happened. My question/s is do you think I have the muscle strain? Could it be something internal? Although icing does help the pain/pressure temporarily. Am I too heavy to run? Im pretty sure that my form was horrible when I started before I looked for help but after the soreness ocurred. Any help would be very appreciated. Thank you.

    • Tina, sounds like intercostal muscle strain is a possibility, but I would strongly suggest you see a physiotherapist or chiropractor for an in-person evaluation. I can’t offer diagnoses over the internet…
      P.S. Congrats on starting a couch to 5K program! I don’t think your weight should be a barrier to being able to do this. Just go at your own pace, walk when you need to and listen to your body.

  73. I’m an old dufus (63). A few weeks ago I seemed to hurt myself shooting baskets (I can’t pinpoint a particular moment). I used to jog and play basketball, but about five years ago my right achilles informed me that I needed to stick to an elliptical. Anyway, over the last few weeks I get this burning in my right side ribs after about eight or ten minutes on the elliptical. At the fifteen minute mark I have to shut it down due to pain. If I have recently done some activity like bowl, the area apparently gets irritated and I have to stop even earlier. I really hate the idea of complete rest for who-knows-how-long, but maybe I have no choice. The good news is that I am mostly pain-free doing routine activities like walking and driving. I’m contemplating going to a physical therapist to see if the healing process can be accelerated so I’m not forced into a sedentary lifestyle until I’m 70.

    • Mike, I’d say that adding a physical therapist or chiropractor to your team is a good call. We all tend to suffer from injuries more easily as we age, even those of us who try hard to be physically active. You may find that regular foam rolling, stretching and deep tissue massage are all you need to ‘keep the kinks out’. Best to get a professional opinion and a prescription for the correct stretches and strength exercises! Come back and let me know how it goes? Tamara

  74. So appreciated reading your overview! Most of all for the patience you have for knitting! I broke my rib surfing plus have intercoastal muscle injury—–and it is so frustrating not to be able to athletic, like I usually am.

    I am impatient!!! Your own patience really cheered me up!

    • Thanks! Patience is one of those virtues that I never had when I was younger. It has taken children to learn it, for me! Best of luck with your recovery!

  75. Hi Tamara! Can you comment on any breathing problems you may have experienced with your injury? About 4 months ago and 6 weeks post pregnancy/birth, I awoke with lower rib pain so severe that I could barely breathe an ended up in an ER. X-rays turned up nothing, and my GP suspected I might have inflammation and prescribed anti-inflamm. Well, I’m 4 months out and periodically my rib can be tender, but the bigger issue is my breathing. I have trouble taking deep breaths when I want to, yawn a lot, and have little sputtering coughs when my breathing is off. Id like to hear about your experience. Many thanks! LesAT1 in Texas.

    • Les, I did experience some pain while breathing when I was injured. Mainly when I tried to take a deep, belly breath. Sounds like you need to strengthen your intercostals and diaphragm. Have you tried any deep breathing exercises? Like the ones they teach in yoga? Try laying on your back and relaxing. Breathe normally for half a dozen breaths. Try slowing your breathing down; 3 counts in, 3 counts out (through nose or mouth, whichever you prefer) for another 5 or 6 breath cycles. Keeping the same tempo, deepen your breath, visualizing on filling up your belly, chest and throat, one by one. Do this 5 or 6 times then relax. Pop back and let me know how this goes?

  76. Hi i read what happened to you and actually i slipped and hit my chin a few days ago which gave me a wound in the chin and tons of injury from the impact, i thought i would benfine then after that day we had P.E class and we had to run or walk for 15 minutes andi get the usual pain when we run but then the next day i danced a little during our class with shaking then when i got home the pain started idk why but its too painful even breathing is so hard! And i judt turned 13 and i think that isnt a good sign at all ๐Ÿ™ i feel very worried about how long it heals because i had to dance and do more physical activities for school :,(

  77. WENDY HALL says:

    Hi I read with interest your story of your intercostal strain. I was gardening 2 weeks ago and strained like mad to pull up a bush when something popped in my chest, it was sore but seemed to abate after a few days. Just under a week later I slipped on polished floors and did a good impression of a cartoon, both feet up in the air and down on my side. While my side bruised the pain there diminished but the pain in the centre of my chest just got worse and worse until the only comfort I got was wearing a sports bra permanently. Sneezing was excruciating as was taking a deep breath. My physio diagnosed strained intercostal ligaments and I am now awaiting treatment with her.
    I am hoping it doesn’t take much longer but at least am heartened by knowing I’m not being a wimp.

  78. Andrea Evehart says:

    Thank you for your post. I have been haunted with this issue for a while. A few weeks ago I had bronchitis and coughing so bad that I pulled muscles below my sternum and right side as you had described. I thought a few weeks would do it. It seems to be okay at times but certain movements trigger subtle pain and at times sharp pain. Thy put me on meds and antibiotics to stop the coughing. These meds led to digestive issues and now when I get pain in that area I keep thinking it is gastric related but after reading your post I am beginning to wonder if it is still the muscle injury that needs more time for healing. I have tried exercising since and feel that maybe that led to a re-injury and the stomach issue happens to be a coincidence that triggers the injured muscles into spasms at times. Is the diaphragm muscles / inter-coastal muscles a role player in the upper GI? (I have no heartburn, acid reflux – as in burning of the throat – or stomach cramping – just basic gas in the upper GI or diaphragm area that triggers these muscles)

    • Andrea, thanks so much for reading and commenting. It’s such a frustrating injury because we need those muscles and ligaments to breathe! I found it hard to be patient with healing. Just take it slow and steady; you’ll get there!

  79. Amber Dawn says:

    Hi Tamara,

    I came across this blog as I was googling symptoms I’m experiencing. I am a new mom (16 weeks) and still feeling like my body isn’t back to normal. My joints feel loose and I haven’t been able to work out like I did before and during my pregnancy. Recently, I tweaked my mid-upper spine by side nursing in an awkward position night after night. I got a couple of adjustments at the chiropractor, which relieved the tweak in my spine, but ever since I have had a strange, inexplicable pain in what I thought was my back(muscles,) but is now seeming like my ribs (the back of them.) I thought it was my deltoids but I realized it doesn’t hurt to simply USE them, it hurts that area when I twist, or bend to the side(like trying to do an oblique stretch.) Does this sound to you like it could be the same injury you experienced? Could it have been due to extra effort by my chiropractor, like maybe he pushed to hard to try to get my spine to crack up there(which I feel like he had to…)

    • Amber,
      Congrats on the new baby! It’s not surprising that your body still feels loose. I know that with my third pregnancy, it took about 6 months before I could exercise at the intensity and frequency I was able to before the baby. It’s possible that you have the same injury, but I can’t tell for sure from the description. I would hope that your chiropractor didn’t cause it. How long ago did you see the chiro? I myself have had some pain after chiropractic treatment, but it usually resolves itself within a few days.

  80. Hi Tamara, I think I strained my intercostals but I’m also worried it’s something else. Mine happened from opening a window that’s a bit tough to open and I was slightly off balanced and pulled upward rapidly several times in a row and felt a strain and it lasted the rest of the day but then weirdly not until several days later did my upper ribs on the left side start hurting when I rotated my body and when taking a deep breath. Could this be intercoastals? The pain isn’t terrible so I think it is a light strain but there’s also a small bump on my rib, which is tender and I certainly feel it in the mornings getting out of bed and anytime I rotate my body to the left or right.

    • By small bump I mean it is slightly raised where it is tender, on the rib.

    • Alex, your symptoms sound familiar to what I know about intercostal muscle strain, although I have not heard of it causing a bump under the skin. As with all injuries, it’s best to see your local health care professional for an in-person diagnosis. I’d make an appointment with a physiotherapist and go from there.

  81. Anna Mackenzie says:

    Hi Tamara, i am so glad i bumped into your blog. I am sure i have strained my intercostal muscle last friday which is 5days ago from coughing so much. Like 2 weeks of having dry cough. It was an agony everytime i cough, sneeze, going in and out of the bed or doing deep breathe! So i went to see a doctor the following day. She gave me cough medicine which helped a lot. After 5days i only cough occasionally and hopefully not to cough at all. And for my muscle strain my doctor only recommend cold compress which like u say icing. Praying it will heal very soon as i have 6months baby to care of. I will try to do the exercise video u posted… hope it will help… thank u again

    • Anna, so sorry to hear this. I’m glad you saw your doctor right away; always the best course of action! As far as the exercises go, you’ll notice that some of them aren’t actually recommended until you’ve started to heal a bit more. The rotational movements, in particular, can cause re-injury if you attempt them too soon. Listen to your body and proceed at the right pace for you ๐Ÿ™‚

  82. Sveta Knight says:

    I strained the intercostal muscles on my left side during areal silk class. It’s been 2 weeks with no improvement. It is hurtful now to do the exercises. I realize now that I have to skip my hoop dance performance, yoga classes, jet skiing, tennis, areal silks for an extended time. It is killing me ;( I am so glad you are over that! and thanks for sharing.

  83. Thanks for posting this! I similarly strained my lower left intercostal muscle doing too much ashtanga and it is excruciating- with RICE, do you compress? I heard its bad to ace bandage your ribs but I feel like some compression would feel really good with my injury. Thanks!

    • Isabel, I wasn’t prescribed compression for my strain. I know that we usually RICE muscle and soft tissues strains, but I would check with your physiotherapist or chiropractor for directions specific to your injury. Rest up and heal quickly! ~ Tamara

  84. so sad to hear it takes so long. I finally got back to my workout routine about a 6 month hiatus…only to mess up my tailbone after the 3rd workout …once i recovered from that and decided I can take my daughter swimming, she decided I needed to correct my stroke and this is how I ended up missing todays workout ๐Ÿ™ sounds like I’m going to miss tomorrows…depressing…

    • Rose, I sympathize. The hardest thing about an injury is not being able to work out. Can you find some exercises that don’t aggravate it and perform them at a mild to moderate intensity? A big part of this is psychological and I find that just doing something keeps me from feeling depressed about not being able to do anything… ๐Ÿ™

  85. Hi Tamara,
    Thanks so much for the good read and inspiration! I am only 2 weeks in and going completely stir crazy not being able to work out like I want to! Did you do any type of cardio while recovering? What type of workouts did you do that avoided further intercostal strain?
    Thanks so much!

    • Cheri, thanks for the comments. I did some cardio; light treadmill and elliptical (but without using the handles as the back and forth jarring motion was painful). I suggest listening to your body and doing only the things that don’t hurt. As far as prevention goes, I avoid rotational movements with heavy loads and any exercise where I might lose my balance, twist and fall. Strengthening more core, lower back and serratus anterior helped a lot too!

  86. I pulled a muscle in my lower right rib cage trying to lift a broken garage door. I felt something “pop” and it hurt. The next 2 days were painful. After a week I went to a chiropractor and he made some adjustments and put Rock Tape on the area. The next day I felt fantastic. A wee later I’ve had good days and some bad ones. Mostly its difficult to sleep at night and get comfortable pain free sleep. Definitely hard to sleep on my right side. Normal twisting and turning remind me I still have an issue with this muscle strain. I’m 54 and it’s going to take some time to heal. A lot of good advise here.


  87. effortforfit says:

    I just started going to the gym after a long break. I tried to grab the barbell from behind the preacher curl thing and did something to my intercostal muscles. I don’t know if my earpiece was in the way or if I simply strained a muscle. I did this last Wednesday but am still very limited in what I can do and still packing ice on it. The pain keeps me from getting back into my fitness regimen…it’s that painful. Should I see a doctor or is this normal?

  88. Hi Tamara, I have intercostal muscle strain and originally my doctor gave me Ibuprofen for the pain management that helped for a while but being a type 2 diabetic it didn’t mix well with my diabetes meds (metformin) etc. Causing diarrhoea and stomach upsets. I went back to the doctor and he gave me panadine but it is nowhere near as effective as the anti-inflammatory. I am usually a very fit person who engages in regular exercise and need to thanks to the diabetes that seems to be hereditary in my family. The pains in almost unbearable at times. I just want to say thanks for the information and knowing one is not alone in these things helps.

    • Kerry, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I’m sorry your going through this. And yes, it does make it feel slightly better knowing that others have gone through (and healed from!) the same injury.

  89. Wow, what a great thread – I found it by googling “intercostal strain with bruising” since my week-old injury now has a hand-sized bruise/redness that looks amazingly like your photo, except mine is the back side right rib area.

    I actually did this turning over in my sleep last week. Felt a searing pain that woke me up and brought tears to my eyes. Of course, that rotational movement is such an everyday thing, I kept forgetting to NOT turn and would almost go to my knees in pain every time I twisted “that way”. Saw a chiro, he diagnosed intercostal muscle strain and I have been icing/ibuprofen ever since. It’s slightly better, though now instead of a tweaking pain, it hurts all over in a larger area than at the beginning. I did my usual yoga, which was OK with a few mods, but I can’t run and honestly even walking or elliptical is tough after 20 minutes or so. It feels like I am recovering from surgery or something, I’m fatigued, unreasonably sore and too much movement gives me a headache and nausea. How frustrating! It’s good to know a little about the recovery process and I will do these suggested exercises to help.

    Thank you for posting this and for all the people who have commented!

  90. Chrissy, so sorry to hear that you have this nasty injury too! I’m glad you found the post and the thread useful; so many people have stopped buy to share their stories and help one another deal with the psychological loop that intercostal strain throws you for!

    Please come back and let me know how you’re doing? It may take awhile to get back to where you were ~ Tamara

  91. Hi, I wanted to give you an update. I actually did something that I found have relieved 90% of my pain and discomfort and allowed me to start walking/running again – YAY! I am still building my stamina back up, but lots of improvement.

    I went to a D.O. after 3 so-so appointments with a very nice chiropractor.

    The D.O. did some spinal manipulation (gentle, not forceful like a chiro), and then he also did some myofascial release. Finally, he injected me with lidocaine to break the pain/reaction to pain cycle. Apparently, sometimes the pain you are experiencing causes tension which further aggravates the pain, causing further tension etc etc. Lidocaine is used to numb the muscle and give your pain receptors a break, so that when the lido wears off, the receptors have forgotten what they were so angry about.

    I went on a Wednesday and woke up Friday morning and went for a 45-min walk. Sunday, a 4-mile walk. Monday a 2 mile walk-run, and Wednesday another 2 mile walk-run. Some discomfort, no pain and more importantly, I am not feeling drained anymore. Also have gone from ibuprofen 4x day to 1x day.

    What a difference. Thanks for your response!

  92. Chrissy, so happy to hear that you’ve found some relief. And yes, I know about that whole pain/tension/fear of pain cycle (happens in labour and delivery a lotโ€ฆ).

    Can I ask you what D.O. is? I haven’t hear of this type of specialist.

  93. So glad to have found this blog post! The comments and your replies, Tamara, have helped my mood enormously!

    I am now 90% sure I sprained my intercostals on the right side during a particularly involved session of power vinyasa. I finished the practice, and about 10 minutes later, in the car, felt a mild twinge in the rib area. I ignored it and went to yoga the following day. Felt fine throughout the practice. Afterwards I felt the twinge again, somewhat stronger and a bit more spread out in my right side. Ignored it again! Took an ibuprofen (shamefully) before yoga the following day. Felt fine once again during practice, but afterwards I had full-on sharp rib pains which increased over the next few hours until I was doubled over and barely able to move or breathe.

    The next day I felt a little better, but I knew I had gone too far. Started getting yoga withdrawal immediately, and rather stupidly I took some ibuprofen, iced the ribs, and did a moderate practice at home. Followed by pull-ups and push ups.

    Then I took it seriously and stopped doing anything. The pain is localized to my right lower ribcage, and it seems to alternate between the front and back. Sleeping is the hardest – I can’t get comfy, and moving positions in bed is agony.

    Now I’m in day 6 and the muscles are still very sore. No chance of attempting yoga, and I’m fighting back the blues in a big way. Going cold turkey from a yoga practice that you adore and do daily is HARD. I am on the edge of some very black moods and bleak emotional negativity.

    Ultimately, I’m hoping the pain and muscle damage retreat enough that I can return to yoga in the next week or so. Maybe this is wishful thinking? I am fit, young, optimal weight, no history of physical problems. Is this going to put me out for six months? Please no!

    Thanks for your blog – seriously, it has made me smile for the first time in 6 days!

  94. Paul Rogers says:

    So I developed a pain in my right lower rib area x3 years ago. I attempted he doctors they said I had strained intercostal muscles possibly. They prescribed me pain killers and that was it goodbye. 2 years later I’m still getting these pains that I just put up with ( I work as a mobile car mechanic ) so the doc sent me for an ultrasound to check for gall stones and fatty liver etc. They said I may have the early signs of primary biliary cirrhosis which is incurable, I don’t drink and I’m 36 year old healthy male. So at this stage I’m scared waiting on the NHS could take months so I went private, the specialist told me immediately that cirrhosis is not what I have and did more tests on the biliary and digestive system, I’ve had an MRI scan also. I had follow up appointment for the conclusion last week but unfortunately missed the appointment due to being unwell, so the next available appointment is August.
    At this stage I’ve given up worrying because I’m diagnosing it myself and I’m 100% sure it’s my intercostal muscles. One thing that is constant in my life is driving a car and when steering the wheel its triggering the pain never giving them time to heal.

  95. Paul Rogers says:

    So to continue……… I came across your website and I am delighted to hear that you have a formula……. I’m going to start this therapy immediately and I will update my results.
    Regarding the follow up at the doctors, the secretary said it’s hardly anything sinister as they would wanted to see you immediately. But I seriously have been all the way round the bend with this issue.

  96. Paul, I wonder if you could get in to see a physiotherapist sooner? If they can confirm intercostal muscle strain (and give you some things to do to ease the pain), it would certainly help set your mind at rest!

  97. Paul Rogers says:

    Thanks for posting this site


  1. […] As a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I’ve taught and trained many people recovering from soft tissue injuries. Torn ACL’s, tight IT bands, strained rotator cuffs and impinged shoulders. I’ve also had my fair share of injuries, including a recent (and very painful!) intercostal muscle strain. […]

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