Experiencing pain while breathing in can make us easily worry, but usually there is a logical explanation that can be linked to an activity you’ve been doing recently. Usually when you experience pain while breathing in, it’s most likely down to something affecting the area of the ribs. In some cases, depending on what the injury is, if something affects the ribs it may take awhile to actually heal completely due to how much we use our ribs and associated muscles on a daily basis. There are many different reasons why this area could be hurting, we’ll be exploring the main possible causes. 

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Sharp Pain While Breathing 

If you’re experiencing a sharp pain while breathing in, affecting between the shoulder blades and perhaps just next to the spine as well, it could be possible that you’ve strained one of the rib joints. Rib joints essentially bridge the gap between your ribs and your spine on the side, they will connect to the end of the vertebra. It can be quite common to strain that area, especially while at the gym. It’s possible for anyone to strain a rib joint, but you may be more prone to this kind of injury if your spine is out of ideal alignment. In this case, the less normal your spine is aligned, the more compromised your mechanics are in general. Taking the example of a hyper-kyphosis alignment in the spine, because the ribs would connect onto the apex of the spine’s curve (the point at which the curve is at its deepest), if you have that kind of alignment you may be more prone to catching or straining the rib trunk. The reason for this is simply that we all have an ideal spinal alignment that helps us to properly distribute the force of gravity and to withstand any forces we put on it during the day. If your spine deviates from its ideal alignment, areas of the spine can become more susceptible to injury because they are bearing weight that they’re not designed to carry. If you strain the rib joint, it can mostly cause some quite sharp localised pain when you’re taking a deep breath. This isn’t a serious condition per se, but it can feel quite painful and like it’s more serious pain than it actually is. Generally this type of problem will clear up over the course of a day or two. If this is something you believe you have, you may find applying ice over the area you’re experiencing the sharp pain, for around 5 minutes at a time, will help to calm down the inflammation. A rib joint is a very sensitive area because it’s an area that performs feedback to the spine in order to tell the muscles how to react to any given situation, it’s this feedback that enables us to keep our joints in place. 

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Sharp Pain Between Shoulder Blades

If you have a sharp stabbing feeling that affects the back between the shoulder blades, this may only affect one area. But if it switches sides it’s unlikely to be a rib injury because these tend to be localised on the specific side of the injury. If this is occurring, this may actually be more of an issue with your spine. As we’ve just discussed, if your spine is out of alignment, it has a higher risk than normal of becoming compromised, and therefore being injured. If you’re experiencing pain that changes the area it affects day-to-day, this can be down to potential nerve problem within the spine, usually caused by a disc compressing against a nerve in the spine. If you have this kind of problem it can be more difficult to fix, therefore it’s best to see a local chiropractor or osteopath in order to investigate deeper into the issue. At The Mayfair Clinic we have a specific combination of therapies that can address compression in the spine due to a disc. Our Spinal Decompression therapy uses a small percentage of the spine to apply a very gentle stretch, alleviating pressure onto compressed areas of the spine. 

Pain Inside the Ribs

Another potential reason for sharp pain when breathing in can be a strained intercostal muscle. Intercostal muscles are a group of muscles that run between the ribs. These help to form, as well as expand and retract, the chest wall and are generally concerned with the mechanical side of breathing. It’s possible to strain intercostal muscles by performing activities that require reaching or twisting – such as painting or lifting with improper form, playing sports such as tennis or golf, or you can also strain the muscle from coughing or sneezing, especially if you’ve been suffering with a cold or flu. This kind of problem is more difficult to resolve, especially as the intercostal muscles are constantly in use throughout the day to support breathing.

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One of the most important things to remember with this problem is to continue to breathe deeply as you would normally – altering your breathing due to the pain can be detrimental to your health in the long-term. It can take a number of weeks for you to feel back to normal, but in the meantime you may find icing the area for 5 minutes during the day to be helpful in easing the pain, along with focused deep breathing exercises.

The last of the most common causes to mention, is a broken rib. Of the most common causes this is probably the most obvious to consider, especially as this would occur as a direct result of an injury. Usually caused by a fall or an accident, you may notice very strong pain, perhaps accompanied by swelling or tenderness around the injured area or even bruising. It’s best to get checked out to be on the safe side, but a broken rib is usually left to heal naturally, unless in the very rare case the bone has splintered, and will usually start to feel better within 6 weeks. 

It can be quite disconcerting to have pain in the chest, as our mind usually jumps to more sinister causes, but usually there is a logical explanation for the cause – especially if you’ve been doing anything that could cause a strain in your midsection around the ribs. If you’re concerned at any point by your symptoms it’s best to get checked out by your local professional, such as a chiropractor or an osteopath, who can help to shed some light on the cause of the problem as well as some more specific advice tailored to your problem. 

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