Skip to content

Pain Around Ribs and Back Symptoms: A Provider’s Perspective to Understanding, Managing, and Prevention

As a female bodybuilder and a healthcare provider, I have encountered various musculoskeletal challenges, and I understand the significance of addressing and preventing pain around the ribs and back. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the common and less common causes of such discomfort and discuss how to manage and prevent it effectively.
Man holding his lower back because of pain around ribs and back symptoms


Pain around the ribs and back is a common issue that affects people of all backgrounds and lifestyles. Whether you are a dedicated athlete, a stay-at-home parent, or a busy professional, discomfort in these areas can significantly impact your daily life. 

Pain Around Ribs and Back: Common Causes

Musculoskeletal problems are a prevalent source of discomfort in the rib and back regions. These issues encompass muscle strains, sprains, and tendonitis, often arising from overuse, repetitive movements, or incorrect lifting techniques. For those engaged in rigorous physical activities like bodybuilding, understanding the origins of these issues is crucial. They can result from strenuous workouts, poor body mechanics, or improper ergonomics, making it essential to recognize these factors as the first step toward prevention.

Muscle Strains, Sprains, and Tendonitis

Muscle strains, sprains, and tendonitis are common culprits behind rib and back pain. These conditions typically result from overexertion, repetitive motions, or sudden, forceful movements. As a female bodybuilder, I know how intense training routines can lead to these issues.

Muscle Strains:

Muscle strains occur when muscle fibers stretch or tear due to excessive force. Common symptoms include pain, muscle weakness, and limited range of motion.


Sprains involve the stretching or tearing of ligaments, which connect bones to each other. They can occur when you overextend or twist your body. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and bruising.


Tendonitis results from the inflammation of tendons, which connect muscles to bones. It often develops due to repetitive movements, making it a concern for athletes and those with physically demanding jobs. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, and reduced mobility.

For individuals engaged in intense physical activities like bodybuilding, it's crucial to recognize the early signs of these conditions, such as pain and discomfort, and take appropriate steps like rest, ice, compression, and elevation (the RICE method) to facilitate recovery.


Costochondritis is another contributor to rib and back pain. It occurs when the cartilage connecting the ribs to the sternum becomes inflamed. This condition can be triggered by viral infections, physical trauma, or overuse, making it imperative to comprehend the risk factors and potential causes.


“John” a passionate amateur boxer, encountered costochondritis after a particularly intense sparring session. His trainer noticed he was overextending his punches and putting excessive strain on his chest area. With a modified training regimen and anti-inflammatory medications, John has successfully managed his condition.


Pleurisy, characterized by inflammation of the lung lining, is often associated with rib and back pain. Its causes can range from infections like pneumonia to underlying medical conditions such as cancer or pulmonary embolism. Recognizing the symptoms of pleurisy is vital for early diagnosis and treatment.

Fictitious Example: 

“Sophia”, a professional swimmer, developed pleurisy following a severe respiratory infection. The inflammation of her lung lining was attributed to her continuous exposure to cold pool environments. With a carefully planned recovery program and antibiotic treatment, Sophia returned to her competitive form.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones, solid deposits that form in the kidneys and travel through the urinary tract, can be a source of severe pain in the flank, the area between the ribs and hips. Understanding risk factors such as dehydration and dietary choices is essential for prevention.

“Riley”, a competitive long-distance runner, experienced excruciating pain in his flank during a marathon. Dehydration and a high-protein diet were identified as the culprits behind his kidney stones. Adjusting his hydration regimen and dietary choices has allowed Riley to continue his athletic pursuits pain-free. (Also check out our page on Can Dehydration Cause Back Pain?)

Gallbladder Stones

Gallbladder stones can cause upper right abdominal and back pain and may require surgical removal. Being aware of risk factors, such as a high-fat diet, is crucial for prevention.


Megan, an enthusiastic rock climber, faced unexpected upper-right abdominal and back pain while scaling a challenging route. Further investigation revealed gallbladder stones. Megan opted for a minimally invasive surgery to remove her gallbladder stones, enabling her to return to her passion for scaling mountains.


Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, can affect the ribs and spine, among other joints. Recognizing its symptoms and understanding risk factors, such as age and genetics, is fundamental to management and prevention.

“Mike”, a lifelong fitness enthusiast and weightlifter, found that osteoarthritis in his rib area was impacting his workouts. With a combination of physical therapy, joint supplements, and changes in his exercise routine, he has effectively managed his condition and maintained his active lifestyle


Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, can lead to back and rib pain, particularly in children and adolescents. Awareness of this condition and its potential genetic links is crucial for early detection and management. 


Young gymnast “Ava” was diagnosed with scoliosis during a routine physical exam for a gymnastics competition. Her parents, trainers, and medical team worked together to create a tailored training regimen that accommodated her condition. With consistent exercises designed to improve her posture, Ava continues to excel in the sport she loves.


Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder, can cause widespread discomfort, including in the ribs and back. Understanding risk factors and triggers, such as stress and trauma, is essential for its management and prevention.


“Jason”, a dedicated marathon runner, experienced widespread pain throughout his body, including his ribs and back. After a thorough diagnosis, he was found to have fibromyalgia. By adjusting his training intensity and incorporating regular massages and stress-reduction techniques, Jason has learned to manage his condition and participate in marathons without severe pain.

These fictitious athlete examples illustrate how various sports enthusiasts may encounter pain around the ribs and back due to different causes, emphasizing the importance of tailored treatments and preventive measures in their athletic journeys.

Recognizing these common causes represents a critical step in addressing and preventing rib and back pain.


Pain Around Ribs and Back:  Less Common Causes

While common causes are significant, it's essential to be aware of less common, potentially severe medical issues that can manifest as rib and back pain.


Shingles, a viral infection, can cause not only a painful rash but also discomfort along the nerve pathways, including the rib and back areas. Understanding the causes, risk factors, and preventive measures for shingles can reduce susceptibility.


Pancreatitis, characterized by inflammation of the pancreas, can lead to upper abdominal pain that may radiate to the back. Various factors, including gallstones, alcohol consumption, or high triglyceride levels, can cause it. Recognizing these causes is instrumental in its prevention.

Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection, though rare, is a life-threatening condition involving a tear in the inner layer of the aorta. Immediate medical attention is necessary due to its severe and potentially fatal consequences. Awareness of this condition and its risk factors can potentially save lives.

Understanding less common causes of rib and back pain is critical, as they often require specialized medical care and interventions.

Pain Around Ribs and Back: Symptoms to Look For 

Recognizing the symptoms associated with rib and back pain is vital for pinpointing the cause and seeking appropriate treatment. While these symptoms can vary depending on the underlying issue, some common ones include:

- Sharp, stabbing pain

- Dull aching pain

- Pain worsens with deep breaths

- Pain worsens with coughing or sneezing

- Pain radiates to other body parts, such as shoulders or arms

- Rib or back tenderness or swelling

- Difficulty moving or breathing

Describing these symptoms accurately to a healthcare provider empowers patients to seek timely medical attention and achieve a better quality of life.

Pain Around Ribs and Back: Diagnosing

Healthcare providers typically follow a systematic approach to diagnose the cause of rib and back pain.

During a medical evaluation, discussing the patient's medical history, including pre-existing conditions, recent injuries, or family medical history, provides essential context for the pain.

Physical examinations are crucial. Providers may check for tenderness, swelling, and assess the patient's range of motion. These assessments provide insights into the nature of the pain and potential underlying issues.

Diagnostic tests, such as X-rays, blood tests, or imaging tests like MRI or CT scans, may be employed to confirm or rule out specific conditions. In some cases, a biopsy may be recommended to diagnose conditions like cancer or infections.

Understanding the diagnostic process enables patients to be informed and engaged in their healthcare.

Pain Around Ribs and Back: Treatments

Effective treatment for rib and back pain depends on the underlying cause. Tailoring treatment to the specific condition is essential for relief.

Musculoskeletal Issues

For musculoskeletal problems, the RICE approach (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) is often recommended to reduce inflammation and promote healing. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications may be part of the treatment plan.


Costochondritis may require anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy to improve mobility and strength.


Pleurisy, when caused by an underlying infection, involves antibiotics or antiviral medications. Treating the primary infection is essential for pleurisy resolution. Managing pain and inflammation through medications can also be part of the treatment plan.

Kidney Stones

For those with kidney stones causing flank pain, the treatment approach may include hydration, pain management, and, in some cases, procedures or surgery to remove or break down the stones.

Gallbladder Stones

Gallbladder stones may necessitate surgical removal. Awareness of risk factors like dietary choices and proactive measures to maintain a healthy gallbladder is essential.


Managing osteoarthritis often includes a combination of pain relief medications, physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, and in some cases, surgical interventions to improve joint function.


Scoliosis management may involve observation, bracing, or, in more severe cases, surgery to correct the spinal curvature. Early detection and ongoing monitoring are key to effective treatment.


Fibromyalgia, a complex chronic pain condition, requires a multidisciplinary approach to treatment. This includes medication, physical therapy, psychological support, and lifestyle adjustments to manage pain and improve overall well-being.

Rib and Back Pain: Less common causes 


Shingles can be treated with antiviral medications to reduce the severity and duration of the infection. Pain management and supportive care are also important for comfort during the recovery process.


Pancreatitis treatment may involve hospitalization, fasting, pain management, and addressing the underlying causes, such as gallstones or alcohol consumption.

Aortic Dissection

Aortic dissection is a medical emergency requiring immediate surgery to repair the torn aorta. Prompt diagnosis and intervention are critical for survival.

In conclusion, understanding, managing, and preventing pain around the ribs and back are crucial for maintaining a high quality of life. By recognizing the common and less common causes of this discomfort, describing symptoms accurately to healthcare providers, and engaging in the diagnostic and treatment processes, individuals can take control of their health and well-being.

Pain Around Ribs and Back: Prevention 

While addressing rib and back pain is essential, preventing it, where possible, is equally important. Here are some preventive measures and strategies that can help reduce the risk of developing discomfort in these areas:

Proper Body Mechanics

Proper body mechanics are fundamental to preventing musculoskeletal issues. Whether you're lifting weights in the gym or performing everyday tasks, such as lifting and carrying, using correct techniques can minimize the risk of strains and sprains. Seek guidance from a qualified trainer or physical therapist to ensure you're using proper form during workouts.

Warm-Up and Stretching

Before engaging in physical activities, including bodybuilding or even routine chores, it's crucial to warm up your muscles and perform stretching exercises. Warming up increases blood flow to your muscles and prepares them for the demands of exercise. Stretching improves flexibility and reduces the risk of injury.

Balanced Workouts

Incorporate a well-rounded exercise routine that includes strength training, cardiovascular exercises, and flexibility training. This balanced approach can help prevent overuse injuries by promoting overall body strength and resilience.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration can contribute to the formation of kidney stones, a common cause of flank pain. Ensure you're adequately hydrated, particularly during physical activities or in hot weather. Drinking enough water is not only beneficial for your overall health but can also reduce the risk of kidney stone formation.

Healthy Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help prevent gallbladder stones. Additionally, limiting your intake of high-cholesterol and high-fat foods can reduce the risk of gallbladder-related upper abdominal and back pain.

Posture Awareness

Proper posture is crucial for spine health. Whether you're sitting at a desk or lifting weights, maintaining good posture reduces the risk of developing scoliosis or exacerbating existing spinal issues. Ergonomic adjustments in your workspace, such as using an ergonomic chair or computer stand, can further support good posture.

Stress Management

Stress and trauma are potential triggers for conditions like fibromyalgia, which can cause widespread pain, including in the ribs and back. Engage in stress management techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to reduce the impact of stress on your body.

Woman doing upper body stretch to prevent pain around ribs and back symptoms

Regular Check-Ups

Regular health check-ups and screenings are essential for early detection and prevention of certain medical conditions. For example, routine check-ups can help identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which may present as upper back pain.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess weight can strain the musculoskeletal system, leading to back pain. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues and other health problems.

Ergonomics in Daily Life

Pay attention to ergonomics in your daily life. This includes using proper seating and computer setup at work, ensuring your mattress and pillows support a healthy sleeping posture, and using proper lifting techniques when moving heavy objects.

Listen to Your Body

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, listen to your body. If you experience any discomfort or pain, do not ignore it. Pain is often a signal that something needs attention. Addressing issues promptly can prevent them from becoming more severe or chronic.

By incorporating these preventive measures into your lifestyle, you can significantly reduce the risk of developing pain around the ribs and back, allowing you to pursue your passions and activities with confidence and comfort.

In conclusion, rib and back pain are common issues that can affect anyone, regardless of their age, gender, or lifestyle. As a female bodybuilder and healthcare provider, I understand the challenges of musculoskeletal issues and the importance of addressing and preventing pain in these areas. By recognizing the common and less common causes of rib and back pain, understanding the symptoms, engaging in the diagnostic and treatment processes, and implementing preventive measures, you can take control of your health and well-being.

Ultimately, pain should not be an obstacle that prevents you from enjoying a fulfilling and active life. Whether you're an athlete or someone seeking to lead a pain-free life, the knowledge and strategies shared in this guide can empower you to make informed decisions about your health and pursue a higher quality of life. Remember that your body is a remarkable and resilient instrument, and with the right care and attention, you can continue to engage in the activities you love while staying pain-free and healthy.

Leave a comment

Subscribe to our newsletter

Receive emails every few days with back pain relief tips, testimonials, and resources