A Closer Look at Intercostal Neuritis
Intercostal neuritis can be pretty scary condition—particularly the first few times that pain results from this condition. Intercostal neuritis literally just means that the nerve located where the rib cage splits has become inflamed. Inflammation is the body’s response to harmful substances such as bacteria, chemicals, or cellular damage. Inflammation is characterized by pain, swelling, redness, immobility, and heat due to the increased blood flow to the area. The intercostals nerves travel along the ribs from back to front and could very well be the reason why some of us experience pain that radiates towards the chest.
Symptoms of Intercostal Neuritis
The pain associated with intercostal neuritis is often defined as being sharp pain that can start at the sides of the rib cage and focus towards the chest. It is typically felt between the ribs, which is why this condition is also known as costochondritis—meaning inflammation of the rib cartilage. Because of the central location of these nerves, many people feel this pain and immediately think that they are having a heart attack or are experiencing lung issues. One may also feel tingling or burning sensations in the chest that can increase with an indrawn breath.
Causes of Intercostal Neuritis
This condition occurs when an excessive amount of pressure is applied to the intercostals nerves. There are many ways that this can occur, such as sleeping in an awkward position, spending a lot of time reclining or lying on an unsupportive mattress or chair, or rolling over too abruptly in bed. It can even be caused by an accident that might have happened hours or even days ago, whether immediate pain occurred directly after the incident or not. You may be wondering how sleeping in a weird position or turning over in bed can cause such annoying an even immobilizing pain. You see, the nerves that flow between the ribs reach all the way back to the spine. When the bones or surrounding cartilage shifts—even slightly—the result can mean a change in the amount of pressure that is placed against the nerves. The nerves are literally being pinched and struggle to send messages to and from the brain.
Other Possible Conditions
Intercostal neuritis is a pretty common condition, but it is not the only one that can cause pain such as this. Many other conditions mimic the pain that is typically associated with intercostal neuritis but are much more severe in nature. Pleurisy is one such condition. Pleurisy is inflammation of the lining of the lung and can be fatal if left unchecked. It typically develops through an infection such as tuberculosis or pneumonia.
Another condition that may cause similar chest pain is an injury to the cartilage that lies between the ribs. Falling in an awkward position or taking a blow to the ribs can cause the cartilage between the ribs to tear or become stressed. This can result in pain that lasts anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. This kind of injury would likely be accompanied by other symptoms such as redness or bruising in the area where the most damage was sustained. The area may also be tender to the touch and be limited to one side of the body.
Someone who suffers from a chronic cough, that is to say a cough that comes and goes all throughout the year, is more likely to feel chest pain. Coughing not only stresses the lungs and esophagus, but it also tends to put a lot of stress on the localized muscles and bones which contract and even spasm during a bad bout of coughing.