Pain Under Ribs: The Most Common Causes and Treatments

Pain Under Ribs – Causes and Treatments

The rib cage is an important part of your body’s respiratory system and it protects vital organs like the heart, lungs, stomach, and kidneys. Most people, at some point in their lives, feel pain under their ribs. In some cases the pain can wrap around the ribs and cause rib pain in the back.

There are various conditions, like digestion problems, kidney stones, inflammation of the tissues, an injury, or even a panic attack, that can all cause pain under the rib cage. It’s important never to ignore any kind of pain under your ribs because it could also be a symptom of a serious condition like a heart attack or cancer.

Sometimes a pain under your right ribs or your left ribs can be a symptom of an infection or inflammation of a specific organ. For example, under your left rib cage are your spleen and part of your stomach. Your liver and gallbladder are located under your right ribs. Although your heart is in the middle of your chest, heart-related problems usually cause mild to severe pain under your left rib cage.

However, there are many reasons other than problems with one of your organs why pain can occur under your rib cage. For example, rib cage pain can also be a result of rib fracture, broken ribs, bruised rib or pulled muscles in your chest. The pain could be noticeable immediately after injuring your rib cage area or it can develop gradually over time and even radiate into your upper or middle back.

Please read on to find out the many different causes of pain under your ribs and what you can do to get rid of your symptoms.

Pain under Ribs – Causes and Treatments

Indigestion (dyspepsia)

Indigestion is a very common reason why many people feel pain and discomfort under their ribs. Among some of the reasons for indigestion are eating too quickly, consuming fatty foods or spicy foods, or smoking. However, it can also be caused by underlying health problems like gastritis, gallstones, or an intestinal blockage. The Mayo Clinic says that indigestion causes discomfort and pain under your breastbone to your navel. You may also experience a burning sensation and bloating in your upper abdomen.1 And you may experience stomach pain after eating or hard stomach as well.

To prevent indigestion from causing pain in your upper abdomen and rib cage, Dr. David T. Derrer on WebMD says that you should eat smaller meals frequently. He also advises to avoid fatty, spicy, and acidic foods as well as consuming less alcohol and caffeinated drinks.2 You can find other natural remedies in my article about the most effective natural treatments for gas and bloating.

Stress can also trigger indigestion, so trying to eat in a relaxed setting and learning to cope with stress better can help you avoid the pain in your rib cage that is caused by indigestion.

Acid Reflux and Ulcers

If you have a burning sensation and pain in your chest area and rib cage after eating, it could be a sign that you have acid reflux (heartburn). Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid seeps into the esophagus causing you to feel a burning sensation and pain in your upper abdomen and sternum.

The reasons that some people experience heartburn are eating acidic foods, stress, smoking, alcohol consumption, and drinking coffee.3

Please be aware, that the chest pains caused by severe heartburn are similar to that of a heart attack. Dr. Derrer, quoted earlier, says that chest pain from acid reflux usually occurs after meals and doesn’t radiate to the shoulders, neck or arms.4

To get rid of pain in the rib cage and other symptoms of acid reflux you can take 1/4 cup of pure aloe vera juice 30 minutes before a meal. Aloe vera contains anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can reduce the pain and discomfort caused by acid reflux. A study published in the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine showed that aloe vera syrup can effectively reduce the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (or GERD, a more severe form of acid reflux).5

Another home remedy to treat heartburn is to use baking soda to get rid of your symptoms. Baking soda balances the level of acid in your stomach, making the discomfort and pain caused by stomach acid disappear. All you have to do is mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water. Drink the baking soda mixture to put an end to the burning sensation and pain of heartburn caused by acid reflux. Or you can try some of my other natural treatments for heartburn.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are two conditions that are classed as inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease can cause inflammation in any part of the gut but ulcerative colitis is confined to the colon and rectum. According to information published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, IBD can also affect the lungs and cause pain behind the ribs.6

Doctors generally agree that you can’t cure IBD, however, there are many home treatments to get a relief from the symptoms of IBD that are causing chest and rib pain. For example, you can use the anti-inflammatory and healing properties of Manuka honey to reduce the discomfort caused by IBD. Clinical trials have shown that Manuka honey can reduce inflammation in the colon.7 Take 2 tsp. Manuka honey every day before breakfast to help relieve the symptoms of IBD and alleviate the pain and discomfort it causes.


So that our rib cage can move when we breathe, cartilages attach our ribs to the breastbone and these joints are called costosternal joints. Costochondritis is an inflammation in these joints causing you to feel tenderness and pain in the ribs when you move. The pain may radiate to your back or abdomen and is more common on your left side. Costochondritis can also cause sternum pain because it is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum).

According to Dr. Katrina Ford on, it’s not known why people develop costochondritis. One possibility is that inflammation in the ribs can be caused by repetitive strain injury or fibromyalgia.8

If you have pain in your rib cage caused by costochondritis, you should rest and apply heat pads to relieve the pain. You should also avoid sports or activities that can make the pain worse.

Rib Fracture, bruised rib, injured or pulled chest muscles

Any kind of injury or fracture to your ribs or to the muscles connecting your ribs (called intercostal muscles) will cause mild to severe rib cage pain depending on the extent of the injury. Depending on the severity of the rib cage injury, the pain can wrap around the ribs and spread to your back causing rib pain in the back.

If you suffer an injury to your rib cage, orthopedic surgeon Dr. C. Benjamin recommends that you seek medical help because you could also have suffered damage to the organs under the ribs.9

An injury to your chest can also cause xiphoid process pain that can be difficult to diagnose because it can mimic symptoms of other health issues.

To help relieve the pain in your ribs after an injury, you should get plenty of rest and apply an ice pack to reduce the swelling and pain. This is also one of the best treatments to relieve a pulled muscle in chest.

Gallstones or gallbladder attack

If you experience pain under the right side of your ribs, it may be a symptom of a gallbladder issue such as gallstones or gallbladder inflammation. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver which is necessary for us to digest food. However, small stones can form in the gallbladder if there is too much cholesterol, bilirubin or not enough bile salts.10 If the stones block the bile duct, they can cause severe pain under your ribs and the gallbladder attack pain can also radiate to your upper back between the shoulder blades. According to Dr. Rob Hicks on WebMD, the pain can last from 1 to 5 hours.11

To help treat rib pain caused by gallstones, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a glass of warm water and drink on an empty stomach every morning to help reduce gallbladder pain and prevent them forming.

Alternatively, if you have gallstone pain you can mix one tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink to get relief from the pain. The acetic acid in vinegar has been shown to reduce cholesterol in clinical trials11 and regularly drinking apple cider vinegar and water can help you prevent gallstones from forming.

In some cases, sharp upper right abdominal pain is one of the side effects of a gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy). After a gallbladder removal surgery, you may need to follow a gallbladder removal diet to prevent some of its side effects such as indigestion and weight gain.

Kidney Stones

One of the first signs that you have kidney stones is a severe pain below the ribs on your side, back, and upper abdomen (flank pain).12 According to the Mayo Clinic, the pain can then spread to the lower abdomen and groin area while the stones move down through your urinary tract. You could also experience nausea, vomiting, pain when urinating, and fever.

The University of Maryland says that one reason that kidney stones form is because of either the body absorbing too much calcium or having too much calcium or another mineral in your diet.13 However, factors like not drinking enough fluids, stress, not getting enough exercise, and hypertension can increase your risk of developing kidney stones.

There are many ways to treat kidney stones naturally. For example, you can take omega-3 fatty acid supplements to help prevent the formation of kidney stones. Although more research has to be done, scientists know that omega-3 helps to reduce the formation of calcium in the formation of kidney stones.14

Apple cider vinegar is also an effective home remedy to get rid of kidney stones and to relieve the rib pain caused by them. The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar has been proven to dissolve kidney stones.15 You should mix 2 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink frequently during the day to dissolve the kidney stones and get rid of the pain that they cause.

Liver Disease

Liver disease can cause a dull or aching pain under the right rib cage. Usually, a healthy liver only has very little fat. But obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking and over consumption of alcohol can cause a fatty build up in the liver leading to liver disease.16 Because the early stages of liver disease go almost unnoticed, it’s important to recognize the early symptoms of liver disease, and pay close attention to any pain around the location of the liver.

To avoid suffering from liver disease you should avoid the 5 common habits that damage your liver. These are:

  • Consuming too much alcohol
  • The overuse of medications
  • Smoking
  • Obesity and poor nutrition
  • Getting too little sleep

To keep your liver in good health you can use this liver cleansing smoothie, or my liver detox recipe. You should mix the juice of 1/2 small lemon with 1 – 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil. Mix well and drink daily to help rid your liver of toxins.


If your pancreas becomes infected and inflamed, it can cause sharp pains under the left side of your rib cage. However, sometimes the pain is felt in the middle of your body below the ribs. The pain can also radiate into the back and may be aggravated by eating foods high in fat. Swollen and tender abdomen is another symptom of pancreatitis. According to pancreatitis can be brought on by gallstones or the overuse of alcohol.17

If you suffer acute pancreatitis, doctors will usually admit you to hospital to get your condition treated. Once pancreatitis has been treated successfully, the Mayo Clinic recommends making lifestyle changes, like stopping drinking alcohol, stopping smoking, switching to a low-fat diet, and drinking more fluids.18

Panic Attack

Many people who suffer from panic disorder also suffer pain below their ribs and in their chest. In fact, studies show that up to 70% of people who have panic attacks suffer chest pain. Other symptoms of panic disorder include rapid heartbeat, sweating, shortness of breath, dizziness, a fear of dying, and chills without fever.19

When you learn to control your anxiety better and manage stress levels, you should find that your panic disorder is more manageable and your bouts of rib and chest pain brought on by panic attacks and other symptoms decrease.

Heart Attack

Pain under ribs on the left side of the body could be one of the signs of a heart attackChest tightness that is a symptom of an impending heart attack can feel like intense pressure that constricts your chest. The NHS in the United Kingdom says that the pain will then usually spread to the arms, neck, jaw or back. You may also have nausea and breathlessness. 20

If you think that you are having a heart attack, you should seek medical help immediately.

There are some natural ways to prevent heart attacks. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends controlling diabetes, blood cholesterol, and blood pressure to decrease your risk of a heart attack.21

For example, some of the simple ways to prevent are heart attack are:

  • Enjoy a healthy, nutritious, well-balanced diet
  • Don’t smoke
  • Keeping physically active
  • Have a waist circumference of under 95 cm
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 30 g/day

If you want to reduce your blood pressure to reduce your risk of heart attack, you can use apple cider vinegar, or try some of these natural methods.

Lung Cancer

One of the less common signs of lung cancer is pain or discomfort under your ribs on the right side. However, the more common symptoms of lung cancer are having a constant cough, being short of breath, coughing up blood, loss of appetite, and losing weight.22

If you are concerned that you have any of these symptoms, it is best to speak to your medical practitioner about these.

You can find more information and tips on how to strengthen your lungs in my article about early signs of lung disease & how to strengthen your lungs. Also consuming garlic has been shown to reduce the risk of lung cancer.


Any kind of infection in the respiratory system can cause pain under your ribs. One of these inflammatory conditions is pleurisy which can make you feel sharp pain under your rib cage when you sneeze, cough, or even breathe. Pleurisy causes pains in the chest because the space between layers of tissue (pleura) that separate your chest from your lungs fills with liquid and creates pressure.

Conditions like viral infections, bacterial infections, rheumatoid arthritis, some medications and lung cancer can cause pleurisy.22

If you have chest pain after an infection that doesn’t go away, you should visit your local doctor for a checkup.

Spleen Disease

The spleen is located in the upper left part of the abdomen, and if the spleen has been damaged you will feel severe pain under the left rib cage. An enlarged spleen can be caused by infections, cancer, and inflammatory diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

The most common symptoms of an enlarged spleen are being unable to eat a large meal and pain under your left rib cage that spreads to your shoulders.23

You can read more about the spleen in my article about signs and symptoms of spleen disease you shouldn’t ignore.

Spleen disease is a serious medical condition that requires professional medical attention.

Read my other related articles:
1. Seven Types of Pain You should Never Ignore
2. Stomach Pain after Eating – Causes and Natural Treatments
3. Ovary Pain and Lower Pelvic Pain – 13 Possible Causes
4. The Top 20 Essential Oils to Relieve Pain and Inflammation

Article Sources

Healthy and Natural World