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Caged to the Pain: A Story about my Ribs

Caged to the Pain: A Story About my Ribs

The ribs are an important part of our bodies. They protect our lungs and hearts and other organs like the spleen. They help us breath by aiding the lungs and they help stabilize the spine. If something were to happen to them then the entire body is basically screwed. The rib cage is pretty strong and it takes a massive amount of force to traumatize the area. Unfortunately, if it breaks or bruises then there’s nothing to do but wait for it to heal.

Of all the things I could talk about I’m harping on about the ribs. Why? Mine are letting me down.

I thankfully do not have osteoporosis, or density loss, in these bones but I do suffer from Costochondritis, where the cartilage of the rib cage becomes inflamed. (We’ll get to that in a second).

Four weeks ago, I experienced a trauma like I mentioned above. I was playing with my new puppy and she stamped on my sternum. Ouchies. I experienced a sharp pain I was not accustomed to from my RA. We did not know whether M broke my ribs or I experienced a bad bone bruise. We later confirmed the latter as the sharp pain lessened pretty quickly.

I never knew how important my ribs were until this moment and the consequential healing time afterward. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. I couldn’t twist my torso, I couldn’t bend forward or backward, and I certainly couldn’t lay down. I don’t know why this surprised me when it even burned to breath. I will never take breathing for granted again because at this point I really wish I didn’t have to!

This is when I truly realized how important my ribs were to my body and wellbeing because, just like with the spine pain I endured last year, there were very few movements that didn’t reverberate to my upper body.

Now here’s where that other lovely inflammatory condition comes in. Since I injured my ribs at the sternum, my Costochondritis flared up even worse because there is a layer of cartilage that connects the front of the ribs to the breastbone.

So what could I do?

I was NOT going to increase my steroids just for this (I am extremely sensitive to Prednisone). There was nothing for it except to wait. Once the pain decreased and I regained some mobility in the area I returned to rock-climbing.

It helped much more than I thought it would. I faced the wall directly so I did not twist my upper body very much. Climbing was also very fluid so I didn’t jerk my rib cage either. The sport also employed every muscle so I didn’t strain any one part and it strengthened everything equally.

It didn’t completely take away the pain but it did strengthen the muscles around my ribs and reduce inflammation as any exercise does. I know rock-climbing is still pretty niche even though it is continuously growing more popular so I wonder what other sports could bolster the ribs. Let me know in the comments how you manage your rib pain! What exercises help you?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • DebC
    3 months ago

    I experienced this just recently. I told my Dr about the new pain in the center of my chest trying to assure him that it had nothing to do with my heart. Yet he still insisted on doing an EKG. He found nothing, then blew me off on the subject.
    The pain has lessened greatly now.

  • tryingharder
    1 year ago

    Sorry I’m new, but I just read the story about your ribs, oh my word, Monica, I’m very sorry for your pain, I’ve broken ribs before and that’s a horrible pain that’s always with you till they heal, I had no idea rheumatoid arthritis affected them also, I’m still trying to find ways to deal with my feet and hands, knees and shoulders from hurting, I’ve been on jelzanz, prednisone, methothextrate, injectables and an opioid with no help, any ideas? I’m searching also, as I stated in a nother column I’m using up my vacation time to keep the job. I currently have, but will soon be part time help and need government assistance through social security, I don’t know how all that works but I’m sure I will have to find out. Thanks for any help?…

  • Jennifer
    1 year ago

    Oh my God this just happened to Me 2 weeks ago and I didn’t know why or what it was I was sure my ribs broke and I couldn’t move I couldn’t breathe the ER doctor that I went to really couldn’t elaborate what it was and it made me cry because I know rheumatoid is tearing up my body I assume that’s what it was I am so grateful for your post it made me feel like I was going crazy that I couldn’t explain to people I had a little lump on the bottom right of my rib cage pointing out and I was scared to death not knowing what it was!!! Now it’s gone but every now and again I feel like hinge of the pain is this something that will always happen? I have rheumatoid arthritis however I cannot get into a rheumatologist until August 21st I feel like my body is falling apart but I tell you what I was so grateful for this email that I got because at least I know a little bit of what it is but my question is is it going to come back? Thank you so much!!!!!

  • DaveW
    1 year ago

    Wow, this is the first I have seen written about the rib pain. I get it occasionally and agree that it is debilitating. I get it right toward the center of my chest and first thought I was having a heart issue, yet I am very familiar with flare pain, so I deduced it was another symptom of my RA. So far, I have been able to calm it a bit with Tylenol 3 and after a while it calms enough to allow me to function. My Rheumy has been reluctant to prescribe stronger pain meds due to the current attention given to opioids, yet when this hits, I would certainly welcome the relief. Anyway, I am sorry to hear that we are all stuck with this and I wish you all minimal pain and maximum goodness in your life. – Dave

  • gsehealth
    1 year ago

    My mom has RA. I learned Rajyoga Meditation and also told my mom about this. This is the best exercise, we can do to decrease pain and be happy in life.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing, gsehealth! I’m glad you and your mum found something that helps with the pain. Thanks for commenting on my article! ~Monica

  • gsehealth
    1 year ago

    Welcome

  • tckrd
    1 year ago

    Monica,
    I understand the pain you have as I struggle with all that you described everyday. Besides RA I also have ankylosing spondylitus. I do deep breathing exercises and trunk twisting exercises. Although painful for me they help to keep flexibility. For you they would add flexibility and strength.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks tckrd! I’m sorry you deal with multiple conditions. I do some deep breathing but haven’t done any twisting. I think I will add that in. Thanks!!

  • Larry Sawyer
    1 year ago

    Monica
    Inflammation of the rib caged and diaphragm are the worst. It hurts every time you breath, roll over when sleeping, or bend over. Of all the joys RA brings me, inflammation of my rib cage and diaphragm always leaves a not so fond remembrance . The only way I have found to deal with a level 6 or above attack is Percocet, valium and cyclobenzaprine. I am judicious in my use of serious drugs. one 7.5 mg Percocet . one 2.5 mg cyclobenzprine and one 2.0 mg of valium. I have never found an exercise that clears this. nor a hot tub, or a sauna. Time,rest and a judicious use of drugs are then only answer I know of. be well. Larry

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    Thanks for sharing, Larry! I definitely agree with you, rib pain is the one I never forget. Pain medication doesn’t do too much for my pain, unfortunately, but I am glad you have a cocktail that works for you!

    I know there is a huge stigma against these kinds of meds but honestly, we need them sometimes and I don’t think we should be ashamed of that! (I know everyone has different opinions on this subject,these are just mine! )

    Thanks for commenting on my article!

  • Brian.S
    1 year ago

    Have found stand up paddle boarding very good for my struggle with RA great all round exercise in beautiful environments lifts the spirits and keeps me mobile I am 52 by the way I was diagnosed over 5 years ago now

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    Oh wow, 2bf0e1t!! That’s awesome! I never had the balance for paddle boarding, myself. I’m glad you have a sport that works well for you! Thanks for commenting on my article!

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    Having had my sternum operated on twice (open heart 2008, sternum separation in 2013, I appreciate the pain you suffered. I am glad it seems more resolved and that the climbing or anything made it better.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    The cartilage around my ribs started aching just reading this comment, Rick! Do you get residual pain from the surgeries? Are there any exercises that help?

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    1 year ago

    Only when I get close to electrical outlets. I have enough to titanium wire and plates in my chest, that I think the Paul McCartney song Magneto and Titanium man is about me.

    Well I thought that long before the surgery, but I think it even more since 2013.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBvH5aTuqVo

  • Nanaamc
    1 year ago

    I can really relate to what you said about rib pain . Whenever I have a flare anywhere in my ribs it stops me in my tracks . Like you said, you can’t twist, you can’t bend, you can’t breathe, you can’t lie down, you pretty much can’t do anything! Luckily it’s not an area that flares very often…thank God. But what impressed me about your article was the rock climbing! Seriously? My hat’s off to you. If you can still manage to do that, you’re doing great! Keep it up. It’s true what they say, “Use it or lose it.” Unfortunately, after 47 years of RA, I’ve lost a lot of movement and physical strength. My exercise is figuring out how best to tackle my day and do what I can without causing any further joint damage.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    I’m sorry you have to deal with this kind of pain Nanaamc! But I’m glad it’s only occassionally.

    And, thank you!! Climbing was always important to me and it defined me as a person. I know I should do it as often as I do and not push myself but I can’t help it. I have not quite let go of the person I was before the RA!

    On my bad days I find stretching really helps. It’s pretty easy on the joints without making them feel worse! https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/exercise/stretching/ I use the exercises in this article frequently! I hope it helps you , too!

    ~Monica

  • Dave
    1 year ago

    Thanks for posting this, I experienced the sternum pain for an extended period of time before my diagnosis. It was excruciating, for lack of a better word. My family doctor attributed it to a gastric condition that I was being treated for at the time. I experienced more than one sleepless night sitting up trying not to scream with the pain. It was that bad. Once I was diagnosed with RA and started the meds the pain disappeared and hasn’t returned. It is so amazing that RA affects so many parts of our anatomy and causes so many different issues. I have experienced some traumatic injuries and have had some major surgery but honestly the pain(s) associated with RA is by far the worst that I have ever experienced. Thanks again for posting.

  • Monica Y. Sengupta moderator author
    1 year ago

    Hey Dave! Thank you so much for commenting! I’m glad you liked my article! I’m sorry you had to deal with this type of pain for so long. It’s definitely an awkward place just because it seems like everything is connected to it!

    I am still surprised by how my RA affects my body. It truly is a systematic condition! Thanks again ~Monica

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