Community Feedback: Rib Cramping with COPD
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One aspect of managing a chronic illness is the constant deciphering of new symptoms! Every time you experience something new you have to ask “Is this normal?” “Is this because of my COPD, or is this something else?”

We asked you in the community what odd or unexplained symptoms you experience with your COPD and the response was huge! It turns out that many of you are not alone in experiencing strange symptoms! Regular headaches, bloating, lack of energy and anxiety were symptoms that came up often within the community, but the biggest discussion point was strange cramping around the rib cage. Below are just some of the comments you shared:

“I get chest cramping right by my ribs; it’s so weird”

  • Feels like a charlie horse in my ribs. People always looks at me like I’m nuts when I’m experiencing one!
  • My husband complains about this. I can actually see a knot-like bulge roll across the top of his belly. 
  • I get the most awful muscles spasms in my upper chest (both sides but not at the same time). Very painful
  • I have experienced strange muscle cramps around my rib cage also! Even had an EKG to rule out heart issues.
  • I thought I was crazy. I have this cramping around my ribs toward the back, mostly when I am in the kitchen cooking for a while
  • I get those same kinds of cramps! Very debilitating! Even a sneeze can even make it happen

“My doctor has no idea what causes my chest cramps”

  • I get cramps and muscle spasm around my ribs! And the doc has no clue
  • Severe muscle spasms around my rib cage. Doctors just look at me like I am crazy!
  • I have the muscle spasms in my ribcage too and my stomach gets hard like a rock 
  • In 5 years with 4 doctors when I describe it they say they never heard of it! Thank you for letting me know it’s not just me.! 
  • When I told the doctor he gave me no explanation acted like I was nuts
  • I have these too. It’s really creepy, and hurts. Docs have no answers

“You are not crazy, and you’re not alone” – Expert Responses:

  • Studies have shown a correlation between COPD and reduction of strength and endurance in skeletal muscles. There are many factors in someone with COPD that could trigger these: corticosteroid use, inactivity, hypoxemia, smoking, and vascular changes. However, the point is, none of you are “crazy”. COPD can have a significant effect on the rib cage, which in turn, has an effect on the muscular system. The specialist in our facility that conducts our pulmonary function testing says that he sees a significant number of COPD patients with this complaint. They can be severe enough to be debilitating – as some of you have obviously experienced.
  • Rib cramping has been reported by patients to the medical community and it has run the range from it occurring during running, to just seemingly occurring for no apparent reason. Clearly, the cause of this can differ from person to person, and can also run the range from a spasm in the intercostal muscles and diaphragm, to trapped gas, to a symptom of a much more serious medical nature. We do not provide medical advice here (for your own safety), but if the pain is significant and persistent, it is a good idea to bring it to the attention of your health care provider for a more definitive diagnosis.
  • Researchers and physicians are learning that many of the symptoms shared here are common among the COPD community, either due to the disease itself, or due to side effects of certain medications. This is why it’s so important for physicians and patients to work together as a team

While there isn’t a clear-cut answer to why this rib cramping happens, it is certainly not uncommon, and you are certainly not alone! The more we spread the word about experiences such as this, the more chance we have at figuring out the cause, and the solution!

In the meantime, if you’ve had an experience with this, or any other “strange symptom” of COPD, share your story with us here: https://copd.net/stories/

Lastly, please note: Not everyone with COPD experiences every symptom identified in this article. Some people experience only a few symptoms. Some people have many. The severity and frequency of symptoms, and how long they last, vary depending upon the individual. If you are experiencing new or different symptoms, be sure to discuss these with your healthcare provider to rule out any potential causes or medication side effects.

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