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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have a rib cage sprain, and it's a little hard to breathe. Is there something I can do to relieve the pain?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is associate physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. He has been a practicing rheumatologist for over 20 years at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. He is an active teacher in the Internal Medicine Residency Program, serving as the Robinson Firm Chief. He is also a teacher in the Rheumatology Fellowship Program.

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June 20, 2011
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A:

If you're having trouble breathing, get medical attention right away.

A sprained muscle between the ribs can cause pain and may make it difficult to take a deep breath. But, with relaxed, normal breathing, you should not be short of breath from this type of sprain.

Once serious causes of troubled breathing have been excluded (such as heart disease or a lung problem) and the diagnosis of a muscle sprain has been confirmed, treatment can begin.

Treatments that can relieve a muscle sprain near the ribs include:

  • Ice for the first 24 to 48 hours, followed by heat
  • A mild pain reliever such as acetaminophen
  • An anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
  • A stronger pain reliever such as tramadol (Ultram) or codeine

Unfortunately, you can't put a splint on the ribs or completely rest the muscles as you can with other muscles that are strained.

Perhaps the most reliable treatment for any muscle sprain is time. Most will improve and go away within a few days.

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