How To Recover Comfortably With An Intercostal Muscle Strain

The intercostal muscles connect the ribcage and support the breathing process, according to Healthline. They are made up of three layers: innermost, internal, and external (per Physiopedia). An intercostal strain can occur from a number of factors ranging from overuse or direct trauma to weakened muscles. Healthline says that some common ways to injure the intercostal muscles include coughing, repetitive reaching or twisting motions — as seen in professions like painting or sports like baseball — and direct traumas from falling or a contact sport.

According to MedicalNewsToday, there are some tell-tale signs of an intercostal muscle injury. The space between the ribs may be tender to the touch and have sharp pain — the intercostal muscles may even spasm. Additionally, the upper back may be in pain as a result of stiff muscles. The pain may get worse over time and with coughing or when taking deep breaths. Notably, the pain may get worse after certain repetitive exercises or motions like swimming. While some intercostal injuries can heal within a week, some injuries can take two months or longer to heal (via Physiopedia). The injury can be very painful and affect sleep and daytime activities, so it's important to find ways to recover comfortably and heal.

How to improve sleep and daytime living

As with most injuries, rest is important during the first few days. You may want to avoid any repetitive movements — or physical activities — that aggravate the injured muscles (per Cleveland Clinic). Additionally, during the first few days of the injury, applying ice may provide relief, while heat can be used after 48 hours (per Healthline). Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers (like Tylenol) or OTC anti-inflammatory medications (like Advil) may help relieve any inflammation or pain. It is also important to see your doctor — they may recommend certain breathing exercises or refer you to a physical therapist for a stretching routine to aid in the recovery process (per Pain Management and Injury Relief). Healing an intercostal injury can be tricky because too much inactivity can weaken the muscles and lead to further damage, while too much activity won't allow the muscles to heal properly (via Spine-Health).

Sleep is another critical aspect of the healing process, but intercostal injuries can make sleep difficult and even painful. The Sleep Foundation says that adjusting your sleeping position can improve your sleep with an intercostal sprain. During the first few days, you may find more relief by sleeping in an elevated position with pillow props. Sometimes, sleeping in a recliner chair can help (per Healthline). Keep your spine aligned and position your torso in a neutral, relaxed position to avoid any twisting (per Sleep Foundation).