Possible causes of rib cage pain, which occurs above either side of the navel and beneath the chest, include a pulled muscle, bruised ribs, broken ribs, chest injury or a rib fracture, states Healthline. An inflamed rib cartilage or lung lining, muscle spasms or bone disease are also potential causes.
Rib cage pain may occur immediately after an injury, develop gradually or manifest without an identifiable cause, notes Healthline. The pain may indicate an imminent heart attack if it intensifies when a person breathes in or shifts to a particular position. Accompanying symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, also signal a heart attack. Anyone who recently suffered a fall and experiences painful breathing and noticeable bruising on the chest needs emergency help.
Doctors generally require an X-ray to diagnose injury-related rib cage pain, according to Healthline. They sometimes order more in-depth imaging tests, such as an MRI, to examine the rib cage and nearby structures. To determine the cause of chronic pain, doctors perform a bone scan, which involves injecting a radioactive substance known as a tracer. The test reveals bone abnormalities, particularly if a person has bone cancer.
Cold compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers help alleviate rib cage pain that results from minor injuries, explains Healthline. Prescription pain relievers are often necessary for pain caused by a rib fracture.