Rib cage consists of 12 pairs of ribs, sternum at the front and also costal cartilage. The space between the ribs (intercostals space) is filled with blood vessels, nerves and muscles. The ribs can either be “true”, which means that they are attached to the sternum (these are first seven pairs of ribs) or “false” ribs (unattached to sternum). Additionally, last two pairs of the ribs are known as floating ribs, since they are not attached to the sternum, but only to the spine at the back.
If you report rib pain with or without breathing difficulties to your doctor, he or she will probably examine you thoroughly and perform some X-ray or other imaging to determine the exact cause of your problem and diagnose the condition properly. The ribs are firm structure but they can be damaged and be the cause of pain. Among the causes of sharp pain in the chest, the most commonly seen are: traumatic injuries to the chest, joint disorders, referred pain, but also costochondritis and osteochondritis dissecans.
Traumas such as strong blows to the chest usually damage the bones, cartilage or the muscles of the chest cavity. Car accidents or fall from some height can also harm your chest and provoke rib pain. Cracked ribs are no news in car accidents and these patients may also experience painful movements and breathing difficulties. Those symptoms must be taken care of, so consult your doctor after such incidents. There is also a chance to experience displaced rib fracture, which is even more serious, since it could cause internal bleeding or even death.
Osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can weaken the bones and increase the possibility of rib fractures and bruising. For patients suffering from these diseases even small injuries may cause extensive damage and provoke sharp pain in the ribs.
Reason for the rib pain can also be something else than the ribs itself. Therefore, be aware that respiratory infections, acid reflux disease, lung infection or inflammation of the lung lining could also lead to sharp rib pain.
Costochondritis and Osteochondritis Dissecans
Costochondritis is the term used to describe inflammation of the costal cartilage, provoked by severe rib injuries, respiratory infections or activities which require forceful arm movements. Many people playing tennis, golf or rowing can be the reason behind your rib pain, too.
Osteochondritis dissecans is caused by repetitive stress and reduced blood supply to the end of the bone. Small piece of cartilage can detach from the bone, lodge somewhere around the joint and provoke pain. If it happens to one of the ribs, this condition may be presented as painful sensation in the ribs.