Physical Symptoms

Anxiety May Be Causing That Rib Pain

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated November 25th, 2020

Anxiety May Be Causing That Rib Pain

Rib pain can be a frightening and while there are ample causes of rib pain that may be serious, this can actually be a symptom of anxiety for some people. While only a doctor can diagnose your rib pain, anyone living with anxiety should mention their anxiety to their doctor. You may find that the rib pain that has caused you so much concern is nothing more than a strange anxiety symptom that you just can't shake.

Some People Are More Prone to Rib Pain

Rib pain is associated with some types of anxiety more than others. While anyone can have some type of pain in their rib related to their anxiety, those with anxiety attacks and other symptoms of breathing issues related to anxiety may be more prone to that type of pain.

What Causes Rib Discomfort From Anxiety?

Stress has a shocking effect on your body - an effect that is almost impossible to quantify, and one that can affect you in ways that even doctors don't understand. But generally there are two causes of rib pain from anxiety. They are:

  • Tension Muscle tension in your chest and stomach has a tendency to lead to rib pain. The tension itself not only puts pressure on your ribs - it also puts pressure on your lungs and abdomen, which can cause you to feel pain in the rib area. 
  • Chest Pain Breathing issues that occur during anxiety can also cause chest pain, and the chest pain often feels like it's coming from closer to your ribs. Despite this chest pain, there is nothing wrong with your heart, but often because chest pain is associated with heart issues many people find that their rib pain causes significant health fears.

There are other strange rib pain causes as well. Anxiety makes you more likely to toss and turn in your sleep, for example, and this may lead to rib pain. It's also possible for ticks or breathing exercises improperly performed to lead to stress on your ribs.

Learning to Reduce Your Feelings of Danger

One of the problems with anxiety and any physical pain is that anxiety also has a tendency to make the mind overreact to the pain. Your body has little aches and pains every day, regardless of your overall health or anxiety levels. Those with anxiety tend to zero in on these feelings, so that they feel more painful than they are.

Also, those that suffer from panic disorder may find that any pain triggers a cascade of anxiety that makes symptoms genuinely worse, while also causing a feeling of doom that makes it hard not to worry about their health. Rib pain from anxiety is not dangerous, but it's clear why many people who experience it are concerned. 

How to Stop Your Anxiety Rib Pain

Most people suffering from this type of rib pain do anything they can to stop it. They try to stretch more, they try to sleep differently - when rib pain from anxiety is bothering you, there is a natural tendency to do anything possible to relieve it.

There are a couple of problems with focusing on relieving rib pain. First, the rib pain is a result of your anxiety, not a health issue, so there's no specific way to rid yourself of the rib pain specifically without working on relieving your overall anxiety. Second, relieving rib pain requires you to focus on your pain, but focusing on your pain can make it worse, causing more anxiety and potentially more rib pain.

Start by trying the following:

  • Distract Yourself- Because focusing on your rib pain makes you rib pain worse, a suitable distraction is important for reducing the impact that the pain has on you. Pain can also cause more anxiety, which can then cause more pain, so a distraction helps to break that cycle so that while the pain may not dissipate automatically, it will be less likely to be fueled by your fear.
  • Get a Massage Massages are generally a stress relief tool. But their benefits for your rib pain go beyond that. Your body is only able to focus on one or two sensations at a time. During a massage, your mind is focused on the impact of the fingers. You may feel some rib pain, but it will be minimized by focusing on the other, better feelings that you experience during a massage.
  • Give Your Pain an Excuse Exercise is an incredible anxiety relief tool, but it also does something very interesting to those living with physical anxiety symptoms. Exercise gives your brain an "excuse" for your feelings. When you exercise thoroughly and then experience pain in the rib or chest, your mind is able to explain it away by your exercise, so that you won't ultimately experience anxiety as a result.

These are valuable tools for relieving anxiety. But they are only the first step, since they do very little to reduce your overall anxiety symptoms, and thus it's unlikely that doing this will prevent you from experiencing rib pain again.

That's why you'll have to focus on strategies that are specific to your anxiety.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

Ask Doctor a Question

Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

Ask Doctor a Question

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