Pain under the ribcage can be distressing and severe. But this common health complaint can usually be resolved quickly with medical assistance. The conditions that cause ribcage pain are also quite common; depending on the cause, the pain can be sharp, dull, gnawing, or throbbing. Often, these symptoms go away without medical intervention, but it's best to see a doctor whenever pain under the ribcage interferes with simple tasks and day-to-day activities. In most cases, imaging scans can quickly identify the cause of the pain.


Gastritis is inflammation of the stomach lining. Because the stomach lies near the lower left side of the rib cage, gastritis can sometimes cause pain just under the ribs, though burning abdominal pain is more common. Other symptoms of gastritis include indigestion, vomiting, and a feeling of fullness. If the stomach lining erodes, stomach ulcers can develop. Bacteria, medication, excessive alcohol intake, or stress are common causes of this condition. Antacids can alleviate some of the symptoms, but a doctor would be able to rule out more serious conditions or complications.

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Liver Disease

Liver pain is usually felt in the upper abdomen, on the right-hand side, below the ribs. The pain from liver disease can be dull and hard to pin-point. Sometimes it also causes back, right shoulder, kidney, or abdominal pain. Fever, dark urine, pale, tar-colored, or bloody stools, vomiting, jaundice, swelling, tenderness, and itchy skin can also indicate liver disease. Dozens of conditions cause this pain, including hepatitis, cholangitis, and cirrhosis.

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Acute pancreatitis

Pain in the center of the abdomen and just under the ribs that radiates toward the back and left shoulder blade can be a sign of acute pancreatitis. People with this condition often feel the pain after a large meal or several hours after heavy drinking. It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you think you may have pancreatitis. Other signs include worsening pain when lying down, easing pain when bending forward, high temperature, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice.

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Gallstones are pebbles of cholesterol, calcium, or bilirubin. They develop naturally, and they don’t usually cause any symptoms. However, when they become trapped in the duct -- the opening or passage within the gallbladder -- they can trigger intense pain felt in the abdomen, just under the center of the rib cage and slightly to the right. An attack of gallstone pain can last one to five hours, and it’s known as biliary colic. Gallstones will usually pass by themselves, delivering a sharp pain when they do. Occasionally, people need medical intervention to remove gallstones.

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Rib Injury

Falls, traffic accidents, and contact sports raise your risk of rib injuries. The ribs can break, bruise, or fracture, and all of these situations are very painful. Likewise, people can pull a muscle as they carry out strenuous physical activities. An X-ray can highlight fractures and breakage. Other scans such as MRIs can detect soft tissue damage.

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People with Tietze's syndrome or Costochondritis often experience rib cage pain. The cartilage in the rib cage, usually where the upper ribs attach to the sternum, can become inflamed. As it swells up, pain can radiate all the way down to the legs. The tenderness and pain can be mild or severe and is made worse when you touch the ribcage. It can sometimes interfere with routine tasks and may require medical intervention.

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Pleuritis or pleurisy affects the pleura, a sheet-like layer of tissue that serves as the lining of the lungs and chest cavity. In healthy individuals, these layers slide across each other as people breathe. However, when these sheets become inflamed, they rub together, causing strong pain just under the rib cage and sometimes into the upper back. This can affect breathing and posture. Because it's easily treated with antibiotics, not many people experience pleurisy or have mild symptoms that go away with time. Within two weeks, most people no longer experience the pain. A doctor can identify it and rule out bronchitis or other conditions via blood tests and scans.

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Lung Cancer

Though a person with chest pain should not immediately assume the worst, lung cancer is another cause of this symptom. The chest pain intensifies with deep breathing, laughing or coughing. Some people cough phlegm or blood and experience shortness of breath and wheezing sounds. Lung cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related death, but early discovery and intervention can greatly improve outcomes.

lung cancer ribcage ericsphotography / Getty Images



Fibromyalgia is a chronic and poorly understood condition. It causes pain throughout the body but no visible symptoms, so people underestimate its effects on daily life. Women are most commonly affected by this pain, which usually burns, throbs, or aches all over the body, but ribcage pain is also common and is one of the main reasons for hospitalization of people with fibromyalgia.

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Pulmonary embolism

Pulmonary embolisms happen when the arterial blood that enters the lungs stops flowing properly because of a blockage on the artery. This blockage may be a blood clot that traveled up from a leg or another part of the body. Ribcage pain is one of the symptoms, along with coughing (or coughing up blood), rapid breathing, breathlessness, lightheadedness, sweating, anxiety, and irregular heartbeats. As less air reaches the lungs and the other organs, PE can have serious consequences. The diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism is quite a quick process, and treating it promptly can prevent complications and fatalities.

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