What Does Pain under the Left Rib Mean?

Health / Life

Human rib cage illustration / Photo by Getty Images


There are a total of 24 ribs that compose your rib cage. Twelve ribs on the right and another 12 on the left side. The function of ribs is to protect the organs that are found beneath it. These organs include the left kidney, stomach, spleen, pancreas, left lung, and the heart. When any of these organs are injured, inflamed, or infected, pain can also radiate around and under the rib cage.

What are the Possible Causes of Left Rib Pain?

Costochondritis or the inflammation of cartilage attaching the ribs to the breastbone may cause left rib pain. Costochondritis occurs for various reasons, such as physical injury, an infection, or arthritis that cause a sharp, stabbing pain in the rib cage. It also gets worst if you press the ribs, sneeze, or a cough.

Pancreatitis or the inflammation of the gland that is located near the small intestine can also cause left rib pain. The pain may be constant or just come and go. Additional symptoms are vomiting, weight loss, or nausea.

A ruptured spleen and gastritis may also cause the same pain in the rib cage.


Comparison of a healthy and affected gastric mucosa that causes rib cage pain / Photo by Shutterstock


Pain in the Left Rib when Coughing

Injuries due to muscle strain, accidents, or fall may cause pain in the left rib when coughing. The injury may have caused damage to the ribs, surrounding tissues, and muscles that forceful or excessive coughing may even lead to rib damage. Ribs can also get fractured, cracked, or bruised that movement of the rib cage every time the person coughs will worsen the discomfort or rib pain.

Aside from injuries, it may also be due to joint conditions that affect the cartilage or bones. Degenerative conditions, such as osteoarthritis, may cause the bones to become brittle. These also cause pain in the left rib when coughing due to strain and excess movement.

Lung disorder and certain infections affected the lungs may also cause pain when coughing.


Woman coughing feeling pained in the chest / Photo by Getty Images


Reasons Why You Experience Left Chest Pain

There are many forms of chest pain. Some individuals experience a dull ache, others a sharp, stabbing pain. Sometimes, the pain feels burning or crushing and in some cases, the pain radiates up to the neck, jaw, and down the arms or at the back. The left chest pain is not always a sign of a heart issue. It may be a broken or bruised rib, pneumonia, viral infection, a torn chest muscle, issues in the lungs, spleen, pancreas, liver or gallbladder, a blood clot in the lungs, or a digestive issues.


Man suffering from a chest pain / Photo by Getty Images


The Left Rib Pain Diagnosis and Procedure

To know what is causing the pain in the left rib cage, the doctor will usually let the patient undergo a physical examination. As part of the left rib pain diagnosis, the doctor will also check for signs of inflammation or swelling, especially caused by costochondritis. If the doctor suspects that the pain is caused by a heart problem, an electrocardiogram may be used to measure the heart’s electrical activity. This will help rule out the underlying condition.


Electrocardiogram inside the operating room monitoring the heart beat / Photo by Getty Images


Symptoms of Rib Cage Pain that Needs Emergency Medical Treatment

A rib cage pain can be attributed to various medical conditions or underlying injuries. Symptoms of rib cage pain may be sharp, dull, aching, sudden, slow to develop, intermittent, or constant. The pain may feel worse when moving or breathing. If the pressure or pain in the chest is already severe that it comes with breathing difficulties, the patient should seek an emergency medical treatment because the symptoms may be a warning sign of a heart attack.


Man having a heart attack / Photo by Getty Images


What Includes the Left Rib Pain Treatment?

The left rib pain treatment will depend on the cause of the pain. If it is due to an inflammation, NSAIDs will be recommended to reduce the swelling and pain. In other cases, an antibiotic will be recommended to remove the bacterial infection. A surgery may be necessary in rare cases, such as if there is the presence of a large kidney stone.


Pile of different NSAIDs medicines / Photo by Shutterstock