Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Lay Down? 5 Common Causes and Treatment

No matter what a comfortable, long night’s sleep you have, it is useless if you wake up with complaints of “Why do my ribs hurt when I lay down or get up?”

There are numerous reasons your ribs may be hurting, ranging from mild to severe. Pain in the ribs is a common symptom of odd sleeping positions, fracture, bronchitis, or even costochondritis. Thus, it is important you get yourself checked by a physician to rule out potentially fatal diseases like lung cancer and bronchitis.

What starts as “Why do my ribs hurt more when I lay down?” may turn into continuous, excruciating pain all day long. Read on to find out some probable causes and how you can make the pain better at home.

Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Lay Down?   

One of the most frequent problems people with trauma, infection, or cancer in any organs or adjacent areas to the ribs have to face is rib pain. But rib pain can be generic, and it is hard to tell the actual reason.

So how do you know the actual cause of the pain? What does it mean if your ribs hurt when you lay down? Here are a few most common reasons why your ribs might be hurting. 

why-do-my-ribs-hurt-when-i-lay-down

Rib Injury

Rib injuries, be it fracture, bruise, or intercostal muscle strain, are one of the most common reasons your ribs might be aching. If you recently had a fall or accident and feel this stabbing pain in your rib cage, get yourself checked. A simple X-ray or MRI can show where the problem lies. 

How can you tell the pain is due to the trauma? For starters, you will feel it when you lie down to sleep in a specific posture or on your back. It also occurs while breathing, sneezing, or coughing, which may be extremely painful. 

Costochondritis

Another frequent question is, “Why do my upper ribs hurt when I lay down?” Since your heart lies to your left, doctors go for an ECG first to rule out a cardiac arrest, especially for patients with a history of cardiovascular diseases. 

However, costochondritis may be as much of a reason as a cardiovascular disease for pain near the ribs. Your ribs are attached to the sternum by cartilage, which sometimes gets inflamed and results in costochondritis. 

To tell if you have costochondritis, focus on where you feel the pain. If it is near the chest on the upper part of the body, the reason could be costochondritis. Don’t worry! It goes away in a few days by itself, although proper care is needed. 

Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder characterized by high-intensity pain throughout your body. The pain is felt especially at the ribs or near the rib cage since that is the most used area. Every time you breathe, the rib cage displaces, and you feel pain. 

Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis have more chances of developing pain near or at the ribs. This summarizes “Why do my ribs hurt when I lay on my back?” 

Pneumonia/ Bronchitis 

Sometimes your lungs or the airway may get inflamed due to certain viruses or bacteria. This results in pneumonia or bronchitis, leading to severe rib pain.  

Since your airway is blocked, you can hear clear wheezing when a stethoscope is placed on your chest. This way, you can differentiate between your symptoms easily in case of rib pain. 

However, you must go to a doctor because if the symptoms escalate, the infection can reach the plurae and cause pleuritis.

Lung Cancer

Your ribs work as a protection for all the surrounding organs, including the lungs. Therefore, in case of organ damage, the ribs get affected as well, resulting in dull, throbbing pain. One such organ damage is due to lung cancer, which could spread rapidly if not diagnosed on time. 

If your ribs hurt when breathing, sneezing, or coughing, along with blood or phlegm in your cough, do not delay your doctor’s visit. Of course, lung cancer is not the only condition; but it is better to be sure. 

Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Lay Down on My Side?

Dealing with rib pain can be extremely painful and may hamper your quality of life if you do not take care of it. But before that, you need to be sure of the reason. Broadly speaking, rib pain can be either due to posture or organ damage.  

Your heart, spleen, stomach, pancreas, and kidney lie on the left side, while the gallbladder and liver are on the right. Depending on where your ribs hurt, there might be a damaged organ from where the inflammation spreads. The pain is not localized; thus, you feel pain in your ribs.

human-rib-cage-anatomy

Additionally, a heart attack may also radiate pain to your ribs. While the chances are less, you should still not ignore this possibility when your ribs hurt.  

Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Lay On My Left Side?

A few common reasons why your left ribs may be hurting are:

  • Costochondritis
  • Fractures or bruised rib
  • Digestive issue (IBS or IBD)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Spleenomegaly
  • Kidney stones
  • Plurititis

Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Lay On My Right Side?

Some reasons for pain in your right ribs:

  • Cholelithiasis (Gallstones)
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Lung cancer
  • Hepatitis 

Symptoms of Rib Pain

The symptoms vary, depending on the reason your ribs hurt. It can be sudden, aching, sharp pain, or dull, throbbing, and continuous. If you only feel pain when you lie down, chances are it is not serious; try changing your sleeping position or keeping a pillow beneath to see if there is any difference. 

Pregnancy is yet another cause of rib pain, but it is normal to feel pain during that time. Do you still want to know “Why do my ribs hurt when I lay down pregnant?

Well, during pregnancy, the hormone fluctuation, particularly “Relaxin”, causes an expansion in the ribs, resulting in discomfort or slight pain in your ribs. Furthermore, the increasing size of the breasts and uterus also puts pressure on the ribs, leading to pain. But don’t worry! it subsides by itself once your pregnancy is over. 

How to Tackle Pain if Laying Down Hurts My Ribs?

You should immediately see a doctor if your rib pain started unannounced without prior disease or symptom. Your doctor may prescribe a series of tests, including X-ray, CT, and MRI, to correctly diagnose the problem.

human-ribs

Here are a few at-home treatment options to manage your pain until your doctor’s appointment. 

  • If your ribs hurt after exposure to trauma such as rib fracture or bruise, try cold therapy with ice and cold compressors. You should also limit your activities and rest to give your ribs enough time to heal.
  • Correct your posture while sleeping. If you prefer sleeping on your side, do not curl tightly. You can also place a pillow beneath your stomach to prevent ribs from pressing too hard.
  • Pain killers such as Ibuprofen and Tylenol can also help relieve the pain, especially when you lie down to sleep.
  • In case of fracture, a chest compressor or brace helps keep the ribs in place. However, it may be difficult to breathe in them since they are quite tight. 
  • Physical therapy and light exercises, such as yoga, are beneficial in cases of fibromyalgia. Make sure you do not put a lot of pressure on your ribs. 
  • For severe cases, such as lung cancer, unfortunately, nothing works except for going for radiation therapy or surgery. 

Final Verdict 

We hope you got your answer to “Why do my ribs hurt when I lay down.” However, you should get a doctor’s opinion as first priority since the pain may get ugly with time. For the time, you can try the above-mentioned treatment options and see if there is any difference. 

Resting has shown a huge role in several cases of pain due to injury or fibromyalgia, so make sure you rest well.  

FAQs

Why does my ribcage hurt when I lie down?

Your ribcage may hurt for various reasons, including trauma to the ribs, fracture, bruising, or inflammation. It could also be due to an irregular sleeping position, resulting in pressure on your ribs and associating area. Try hot and cold therapy with pain killers and light exercises to relieve the symptoms. 

Why does my left rib hurt when I lie down?

Pain in the left rib can be due to an underlying cardiovascular disease since your heart lies to your left. A few other reasons may be splenomegaly, a gastric issue, or pleuritis, as all these organs lie on the left side of your body. The symptoms usually aggravate when you lie down since lying puts additional pressure on your organs.  

What is the cause of rib pain at night?

The reason your rib pain acts up during the night is because you lay down to sleep. This puts pressure on the ribs resulting in pain and inflammation. A lot of it also has to do with how you sleep. An uncomfortable sleeping position is one of the biggest reasons for rib pain at night.

Marium Sohail

Marium Sohail

Marium Sohail is an MBBS student at Karachi Medical And Dental College, Pakistan. Besides spending a major chunk of her time studying about the human body, she love breaking down the what's and how's of medicine for people through her writing. During her free time, she can be found with a book in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other.

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