What Is an Intercostal Muscle Strain?
This article will discuss in more detail what an intercostal muscle sprain is and its symptoms. It will also explain the causes, diagnosis, treatment options, and ways to prevent future intercostal muscle strains.
The intercostal muscles consist of three layers. These include:
- external intercostal muscles
- internal intercostal muscles
- innermost intercostal muscles
The intercostal muscles sit between the ribs, moving the ribs upward and outward when you breathe.
The intercostal muscles can become strained if they become overstretched, which compresses your ribcage, 2017 research explains. This can happen if you twist your chest area more than it is capable of moving.
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You can look for certain signs of an intercostal muscle strain. These include:
- Your chest or ribs may be tender and painful to touch.
- You may have pain in your chest when you breathe, sneeze, or cough.
- You may experience muscle spasms in your chest.
If you are experiencing pain in your upper body and chest muscles or they feel tender to touch, you should contact your doctor for advice.
Your doctor can advise you on pain medication and home remedies. Ultimately, they can help you come up with a treatment plan that is right for you.
You may experience an intercostal muscle strain for several reasons, including:
- having a sports injury, particularly from sports that require intense use of your upper body
- having an injury from repetitive movements, such as painting a ceiling or chopping wood
It is common for office workers and those who spend a lot of time sitting down and leaning forward to strain their intercostal muscles. This is because the position can lead to your upper body moving beyond its usual shape.
Sports that involve repetitive overstretching that can lead to intercostal muscle strain include:
This is because the activities need you to twist, pull, or place pressure on your chest area.
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Treatment of intercostal muscle strain can vary depending on how your injury happened and how severe the tear is. Treatment options can range from pain relief for a mild strain to surgery if you have a severe tear.
To treat an intercostal muscle strain, you need to rest and stop doing the exercise or action that caused the strain to happen.
Your doctor may recommend stretching exercises to aid recovery. However, if stretching exercises caused the injury, your doctor may suggest muscle-strengthening exercises, according to the 2017 research mentioned earlier.
Other treatments that you can do at home may include:
- resting to avoid putting further strain on the area
- applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes at certain intervals, as directed by a doctor
- using a heating pad after the first few days to relieve pain and speed up the healing process
- speaking with your doctor about which medications you can take to relieve the pain
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions about how you may have injured yourself if you think you have an intercostal muscle strain.
To diagnose how severe your intercostal muscle strain is, they may use a grading system:
- Grade I — first-degree, or mild: This is a mild strain where some of your muscle fibers have become overstretched or torn.
- Grade II — second-degree or moderate: This is a moderate strain or an injury to some of your fibers. You may also experience swelling and pain in your chest muscles.
- Grade III — third-degree or severe: This is a severe tear of your chest muscles, causing swelling, pain, and discoloration.
You can prevent an intercostal muscle strain from occurring by:
- strengthening the muscles around your chest area with exercises
- slowly increasing the intensity of your exercise plan
- warming up before you exercise
- ensuring you use good posture daily when sitting and standing
Read more on how to improve your posture.
An intercostal muscle strain can happen when you overstretch, twist, pull, or place too much pressure on your chest. The strain can cause pain, tenderness, and swelling. It can also hurt to breathe.
If you have been experiencing muscle pain in your chest, contact your doctor so you can receive a proper diagnosis and a treatment plan.