Intercostal neuralgia symptoms stem from a type of sharp pain that originates with the intercostal nerves that grow from the spine, around the rib cage. What’s more, there are twelve intercostal nerves under the ribs that are the source of sensory fibers to the skin, and other tissue.
The intercostal nerves grow from the spinal cord along the ribs, and are the cause of 22 percent of pain in clinical patients. However, the good news is that intercostal neuralgia is sometimes preventable, and usually treatable.
What Does Intercostal Neuralgia Feel Like?
There are any number of diseases and injuries which cause damage to the intercostal nerves. Unfortunately, intercostal nerve damage causes sharp pain around the upper chest. Some describe the intercostal neuralgia symptoms as gnawing, or tearing pain. Additionally, the pain is often severely intense when coughing, or laughing.
Tip o’ the hat to Bel Marra Health.
Intercostal Neuralgia Symptoms
The primary intercostal neuralgia symptoms are burning, sharp or shooting pains. The areas of the body where this type of pain occurs are the upper chest, upper back, and around the ribs. You might also experience a sensation of tightness or squeezing, from the back, to the front of the chest, along with a tingling or numbness.
In more severe cases, intercostal neuralgia symptoms also include the following:
- Uncontrollable muscle twitching
- Little or no appetite
- Atrophy in the muscles
- An extremely sharp bolt of pain
The shingles virus might also bring on intercostal neuralgia in the upper body area. If this is the cause, the skin is itchy and overly sensitive to touch of any kind, including clothing.
In addition, other common intercostal neuralgia symptoms, are pain that radiates bilaterally from the front to the back of the chest, a tingling sensation, numbness, or fever.
Intercostal Neuralgia Causes
There are many ways intercostal nerves suffer trauma due to pinching or compression. For instance, it is easy to mistake intercostal neuralgia, on the left side, as heart pain or angina. Regardless, when this type of pain occurs, call your medical professional immediately. This is an illness to leave to the professionals to diagnose.
Additionally, you will find a list of other causes below. However, please note that this list is not exhaustive, and it is always best to consult with your physician when you feel this type of pain.
- Long-term extension of the abdomen (Intercostal neuralgia pregnancy).
- Scar tissue forms around the nerve from an injury or surgery.
- Overuse of the abdominal muscles.
- Intercostal neuralgia caused by stress.
- Curvature of the spine (Intercostal neuralgia back pain).
- Infections such as shingles or post herpetic neuralgia.
- Tumors pressing against the rib cage.
- Surgery that requires opening the rib cage.
- Injury to the chest or ribs.
- Muscle and ligament strain around the chest, back, and shoulders.
- Nerve degeneration.
Interestingly, if there is no known cause for the pain, the term becomes idiopathic intercostal neuralgia.
Tip o’ the hat to ePainAssist.
Intercostal Neuralgia Diagnosis
Intercostal neuralgia diagnosis includes close inspection of the source of the pain. Corresponding body movements are also a part of the diagnosis, along with a neurological examination. To rule out potential pathological causes of the pain, other tests are given to locate the possible source of the pain, such as heart or lung disease.
Other tests include blood tests, CT/MRI, chest x-ray, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, or ultrasound.
Tip o’ the hat to Bel Marra Health.
Intercostal Neuralgia Treatment
Like most pain, intercostal neuralgia treatment depends on the source of the pain. What’s more, this type of pain often resolves on its own. However, it’s still best to consult with your medical professional for the best course of treatment.
Here are some of the treatments to expect when visiting your medical care professional. But, keep in mind that the treatment depends on the source of the pain.
- In extreme cases when intercostal nerve pain frequently re-occurs, your physician might prescribe selective Radiofrequency or Cryo Nerve Ablation which destroys a specific portion of the nerve.
- Treatment also might include neuropathic pain medications, such as Neurontin or Lyrica. Additionally, over-the-counter capsaicin cream, or lidocaine gels, help to temporarily relieve this type of pain.
- Another treatment involves intercostal nerve blocks with the use of local anesthetic, or corticosteroids administered around the infected nerve.
- Intercostal pain treatment may also include epidural injections, and sleeve injections into the nerve root.
- Other methods of treatment include antidepressants, or anticonvulsant medication.
- Over-the-counter pain killers such as ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Physical therapy and massage.
- Acupuncture or acupressure.
- Hot compresses to improve blood circulation.
- Aromatherapy, such as clove or lavender essential oils, may help with burning and pain.
Intercostal Neuralgia Home Treatments
In addition, if you treat yourself at home with over-the-counter medications, follow the manufacturer’s directions on the labels. Do this because it is important to avoid taking the wrong combination of too many pain medications. Therefore, please consult with your medical professional, before combining medications.
Tip o’ the hat to ePainAssist.
Intercostal Neuralgia Exercises
There are also exercises you can do at home to further treat your intercostal pain.
The “W” Exercise
- Stand tall with your arms out to the side with your elbows at about a 90-degree angle turning your palms upward. This is the “W” stance.
- Raise your arms slow upwards until they reach over your head. This is the “I” stance.
- Then lower your arms slowly and repeat.
Yoga Cow Face Pose
- Get down on all fours.
- Align knees below your hips and hands below the shoulders.
- While you inhale, raise your head and tailbone which forms a concave curve in your back.
- While exhaling, round the back upwards, slip in the tailbone, and relax the neck.
- Repeat 10 times.
Does Intercostal Neuralgia Go Away?
Yes, in most cases, intercostal neuralgia goes away on its own, however, it affects different people in diverse ways. Left untreated, chronic pain leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and little or no appetite, in addition to other complications.
That’s why it’s essential to consult with your physician to help you find the right treatment, before it leads to other health issues.
But, please continue to do your research into the symptoms and treatments of intercostal neuralgia. Doing so gives you the information you need to consult with your physician, to find the best treatment for you.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products discussed are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.