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How to Sleep with Intercostal Muscle Strain

Intercostal muscle strain is a common but painful condition where the damage in the muscles between the ribs causes excruciating chest pains. These chest muscles greatly aid in breathing, flexing and twisting, as well as all the respiratory functions of the body. If your intercostal muscles are injured, you may feel intense waves of pain upon even the simplest of movements and you may find daily tasks impossible to do.

With intercostal muscle pain, resting or sleeping may become too taxing on the body and can further strain the injured muscles. Pushing yourself up, sitting, lying down, or even breathing can be incredibly uncomfortable, but there are remedies for this condition that you can take into consideration.

Healthcare experts recommend speaking with your doctor immediately about the condition and severity of pain so the proper tests can be run. In addition to this, mild stretching, over-the-counter pain medication, and rest for the body are vital when recovering from intercostal muscle strain.

How to Sleep Comfortably with Intercostal Muscle Strain

Sleeping with intercostal muscle strain can be unbearably painful for some, especially since stretching or lying motions can trigger discomfort. However, there are some general tips to avoid triggering severe chest pain or muscle strains that may immensely aid in sleep with intercostal muscle condition. We recommend that you experiment with these sleeping positions and workarounds to see what suits your needs and body conditions.

1. Sleep sitting upright

girl sleeping with Intercostal Muscle Strain

Lying down on the bed may cause excruciating pain in your chest muscles and you may find yourself restless throughout the night. To tackle this, you can rest on a wedge pillow placed against your headboard which will help you sleep upright, slightly reclined. This removes pressure from the rib cage, allowing you to breathe and relax without searing pain cutting through your chest muscles.

Another inexpensive solution is to invest in a backrest pillow with arms – it is inexpensive and provides your back with support, allowing you to sleep comfortably in an upright position.

Although expensive than the options discussed above, you can also invest in a reclining bed that allows you to adjust the position and height of the bed frame to adopt a comfortable sleeping position. Using a remote control or a lever on the side that is easily reachable, you can tinker with the height of your reclining bed.

2. Use a pillow under knees to prevent upper back pain

Another excellent strategy to save yourself from severe pain due to intercostal muscle strain is by placing a pillow under your knees or feet to elevate your legs.  This position ensures that your spine is aligned correctly without any pressure buildup pressing it down. A pillow tucked underneath your legs will also help maintain the curve in your lower back.

In addition to this, tucking a bolster pillow or rolled towel under your knees will also eliminate any soreness or cramping in the legs which may add to the excessive pain in your chest. This position keeps stress away from your spine and rib cage, greatly helping in reducing intercostal muscle pain and providing you with a restful slumber.

3. Mild breathing exercises before bed

Mild breathing exercises are a great way to get relief from consistent ache. These exercises not only help in the healing process of your rib muscles, but also allow better quality sleep at night.

When doing breathing exercises, it is preferable to stay in a sitting or standing position with your back straight. Be sure not to stretch too hard in case it causes stress on your ribs. Inhale from the bottom of the lungs and think of breathing from your diaphragm by gently letting your abdominal muscles expand. Push the air out from the lungs using the same muscles and repeat this deep breathing exercise five to ten times every night before heading to sleep.

Try not to do anything too strenuous that may cause more harm than relief. These mild breathing exercises help to release tension and stress from the body, allowing your rib muscles to relax. Stretching, twisting, or breathing too harshly may exacerbate pain making it harder to ease your body.

Your doctor may also give you a spirometer to monitor your inhalation and to avoid excessive shallow breathing. If pain becomes worse with time and breathing is more laborious, you may be recommended over-the-counter medication to apply on the affected area for relief.

4. Try pain management techniques

Sometimes the best way to deal and sleep with intercostal muscle pain is good old fashioned resting. Intercostal muscle pain could be due to excessive physical labor, contact sports, car accidents, etc., therefore, you need to give your chest and the rest of your body ample rest to recover from the impact. Try to rest in intervals throughout the day to give your chest walls some healing room.

Coughing or sneezing throughout the night due to a cold could also pull a chest muscle at any point and this can be helped by taking a small cushion or pillow and bracing as you cough. If you find the pain coming through during the day, try using a heat wrap or cold pack for ten to fifteen minutes a few times a day. Let your body decide which option works best for it and use it to reduce discomfort and pain.

Yoga is also known to be a pain management technique for intercostal muscle strain, but some positions might be tricky and tougher on your body so consult your personal healthcare provider for approval before you overdo it.

Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be useful in this situation. As long as you do not have any underlying conditions, you can take acetaminophen with your meal but always consult your doctor before taking any form of medication.

5. See a doctor and avoid self-diagnosis

It goes without saying that you should never play doctor when your health is on the line. Intercostal muscle strain can become worse if a proper, recommended treatment plan is not followed. Self-diagnosis and pumping your body with clashing sets of painkillers or homeopathic concoctions may cause damage beyond control.

If you feel a stabbing pain in the center of your chest when inhaling or stretching, this may be a symptom of intercostal muscle pain. As the symptoms resemble those of other conditions such as rib fractures and pneumonia, etc. you need expert eyes for a thorough check-up and diagnosis before your condition worsens.

Sometimes it might just be a sharp stabbing pain from a traumatic experience, or twisting your body when lifting something too heavy, it is still preferable to see your medical professional. Your doctor will recommend essential tests if your condition is confirmed and properly gauge the extent of the injury.

The extent of the injury and pain may be different for individuals; in which case, healthcare professionals must devise unique treatment plans. It is vital to visit your doctor as soon as you observe symptoms of intercostal muscle strain as it might be something far more serious such as a muscle tear or internal bleeding which requires emergency surgery.

Intercostal Muscle Strain Causes and Symptoms

The symptoms of intercostal muscle strain may resemble those of other more serious conditions and injuries so it is important to get properly diagnosed in case you face similar indications.

You may feel a sharp, stabbing pain at the time of injury or it may become noticeable after a while. The pain will worsen when you stretch, twist, cough, or breath in too harshly. You also notice that the area between your ribs feels sore to the touch. This is because your muscles are tender when they are injured and you may want to avoid contact with your chest.

Intercostal muscle strain may also cause difficulties in breathing. In fact, you may find it incredibly painful and uncomfortable to breathe and instead take in shallow sips of air gradually. This may leave you short of breath and lightheaded.

Another symptom of intercostal muscle strain is swelling due to partially torn or strained muscle that has become inflamed. You may notice the swelling around or between the affected ribs. Your injured muscles may feel tight when you inhale, twist, or reach for something at a higher level.

Preventing Intercostal Pain When Sleeping at Night

Breathing alone can flare up intense pain and discomfort when dealing with a rib injury or intercostal muscle strain. When you inhale, it stretches and contracts your muscles which puts pressure resulting in stinging ache. While we certainly cannot give up breathing, we can try to keep the torso neutral and avoid any twisting or unwanted contact with surfaces.

Using supportive pillows such as wedge or body pillows can provide you with comfort by keeping those sore muscles from stretching too often. It is best to sleep on a reclining bed as it keeps the body in a secure position, allowing those injured areas to heal. You can also place a heating pad or an ice pack against your chest when sleeping for pain relief. Experts believe that heat therapy can be an excellent pain reliever and soothes the ache away.

Gentle breathing exercises performed once before going to sleep or as prescribed by your doctor can allow your muscles some workout needed for the healing process. These can also facilitate in balancing your breathing and prevent sudden pangs of pain. Pain medications can also be taken before heading to bed to keep you from waking up multiple times in the middle of the night.

These pain relief strategies can allow you to rest properly without stressing about bouts of pain throughout the night. Injuries to the rib cage or muscles in the chest region can cause immense discomfort when sleeping, but these pain prevention techniques can assist in relieving muscle tension and excessive pain.

Intercostal Muscles Strain Treatment

Aside from the various recommended home remedies such as heating pads and ice packs, intercostal muscle strain must also be treated using a variety of other methods such as ultrasound therapy. Many healthcare providers now utilize this method as it relies on high frequency sound waves to provide a healing impact on the tissue.

The Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is another form of therapy that uses low-voltage electric currents to treat pain by stimulating the nerves through the skin. This releases the natural endorphins in the body, relaxing the injured muscles and providing relief.

Muscle relaxants are also often used to reduce spasms and budding pain which may otherwise cause excessive tightness and soreness. These can be recommended by your local doctor and can ease discomfort caused by intercostal muscle strain. Your doctor may also recommend special nerve blocking injections that temporarily block the web of nerves located in the ribcage and this may last for hours or longer depending on the dosage. Nerve block injections can also offer pain relief and help in treating painful intercostal muscles.

The suitability and effectiveness of these treatment options depends entirely on the severity and nature of your intercostal muscle strains and pain levels. It is best to consult your doctor about the appropriate pain management options and what treatment works best for you.

Intercostal Muscle Strain Exercises to Avoid

When practicing mild breathing or physical exercises, it is vital to restrain yourself from strenuous activity that might contribute to the rib injuries. Exerting yourself by practicing weight lifting, high impact workouts, extreme cardio, etc., may make your condition worse and result in more serious damage. Avoid exercises that require exertion. It is also important to avoid extended rest periods as under-using your muscles may also lead to weakness and risk further injury.

How long does it take for an intercostal muscle strain to heal?

Depending on the nature, extent, and seriousness of the injury, intercostal muscle strain can take anywhere between a couple days to a good few weeks to heal. In case of a mild case, muscle strain commonly heals within a few days. Stronger strains can take over three to seven weeks to heal and in case of excruciating pain that may involve the tearing of a muscle, the healing process can take much longer.

Dr. Luke Sandoval
Dr. Luke Sandoval is a certified and licensed sleep consultant dealing with a variety of sleep disorders. His expertise expands to management of patients suffering from sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, restlessness, and performance related consequences of sleep problems. Dr. Sandoval’s research acutely focuses on connections between sleep patterns and individual health which examines nutrition and its underlying impact on sleeping habits. He is a frequently sought expert on the psychological and physical impact of sleep disorders and has several accolades to his name.
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