ZocdocAnswersWhy are my ribs always tender?

Question

Why are my ribs always tender?

For years my ribs have been really tender, especially if they are poked or grabbed. Doctors can't seem to figure out why. What would make just my ribs so sore like that?

Answer

Rib pain can be caused by several different things. Rib fractures can be extremely painful, mostly because every time you take a breath your rib cage has to move slightly to accommodate the increase in size in the lungs. However, if your ribs have been painful like this for years it is unlikely that fractures is the cause. Secondly, the muscles between the ribs--the intercostal muscles--are also a part of helping expand the rib cage with inspiration. If you have strained or aggravated those muscles, the area around your ribs may also be very tender. Again, however, it seems unlikely that this could be going on for a period of years, although if you regularly do large numbers of crunches and abdominal exercises, this could be a possibility. From the way you describe your symptoms, it may also be possible that you have some inflammation in the lining surrounding the lungs (which might seem like rib pain). So-called pleuritis is not unusual, but it also typically wouldn't last for years on end. Given your symptoms it sounds like the best thing to do is to continue to follow-up with your primary care physician and whichever specialists he or she sends you to. If you have pain in other parts of your body, you could also be suffering from fibromyalgia, a condition that causes musculoskeletal pain in different parts of the body without an underlying injury or specific disease.

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