Rib pain can be a frightening anxiety symptom. But it is an anxiety symptom. While there are ample causes of rib pain that are more serious, the reality is that often unexplained rib pain is caused by nothing more than your mental health.
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.
Are Your Rib Pains From Anxiety?
Rib and chest pain are common complaints from those suffering from anxiety and anxiety attacks. They may be due to rib damage or something more serious as well.
Our free 7 minute anxiety test can provide you with insight and statistics into your anxiety, and give you treatment recommendations.
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.
If you haven't completed it yet, take my free 7 minute anxiety test. It's a test I developed specifically to help others come to understand their anxiety better.
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 as though you have rib pain because of the way it puts pressure on your ribs and muscles.
- 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 and breathing issues that people use to cope with their anxiety 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. But 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 suffer with it.
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 of course a natural tendency to do anything you can to relieve it.
There are a couple of problems with 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 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.
I've helped thousands of people with rib pain reduce their anxiety, but to start it's essential that you take my 7 minute anxiety test. It's a free test that will provide you with valuable insight into how your anxiety affects you, and the results will make it possible to give you more accurate relief strategies.
If you haven't done so yet, take my 7 minute anxiety test here.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.