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Community Feedback: Rib Cramping with COPD.

Community Feedback: Rib Cramping with COPD

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.

Comments

  • pat02
    2 months ago

    I started cramping about six months ago, my doctor sent me for chest xray and CT scan, nothing showed up so he sent me to my heart doctor. After all the test and a heart cath. the doctor told me that because I am on four liters of oxygen 24/7 that even at rest my heart is working so hard that it is causing spasms, where I already have angina pain it is adding to it. They put me on a 24 hour nitroglycerin and it has stopped almost all the spasms. I am so thankful….

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    Hi pat02 and thanks for joining in the conversation here. We appreciate you sharing your history and experience with treatment of the rib cramping you mentioned. Glad to hear the diagnosis and treatment provided to you by the cardiologist was able to relieve the symptoms. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • LynnInUtah
    2 months ago

    Concerning “rib cramps”: The pain is like getting struck by a bolt of lightening. This was diagnosed as Sciatica.
    The rib cramping is Intercostal Nerve Pain. This started with me over a year ago when I was hospitalized for Septic Shock and they put a probe between the ribs.
    The pain is the same for each and will usually last for 6-8 weeks. No medication to relieve the pain.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    2 months ago

    You have a way with words, LynnInUtah. You make me “feel” the pain you’re experiencing. I’m sorry for that. Although you said no medication relieves it, have you found anything that does?
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • lesleyh2
    3 months ago

    When i told my GP all he said to me was * well you will have to live with it *

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi lesleyh2 and thanks for this post. What was your reaction when the physician said that to you? Do you have any thoughts about looking for another doctor? Perhaps one who is more compassionate and understanding would suit you better. What do you think? Leon (site moderator)

  • lwaid88
    3 months ago

    Yes, I have said it feels like someone shoving a fist between your ribs. I have also said like wringing out a washcloth between ribs that tight knot.

  • mikeh375
    7 months ago

    I experience these cramps too….usually while in the shower, twisting and reaching. They are very severe , but fortunately they only last a minute or two….one thing that helps me is a tablespoon or two of yellow mustard….I believe the turmeric is the key ingredient helping to relieve them.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi mikeh35 and thanks for joining in the conversation. We appreciate your input here. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Chloeshadow
    7 months ago

    Great article about rib pain..at least I know I am not alone with this

  • TracyCarnahan
    1 year ago

    II used to get these rib cramps so bad I would be flopping around on the bed life a dying fish on pavment. Struggling to find any posistion or contortion that would relieve the cramping. I learn it was one of my long term inhalers Advair that was causing it for me.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    TracyCarnahan – How terrible! You painted a vivid picture of what those cramps must have been like. Many can sympathize with the pain involved. I’m so glad you found the cause. I hope you were also able to find another long-term medication that would help your COPD without those side-effects.

    Regards,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Lynn18
    1 year ago

    I have lung disease. I have a really bad back, I get sever cramps in my back. It immobilizes me. I never thought it could be from my Lungs.
    Thank You, for the article.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Lynn18 and thanks for your post. There are many symptoms that have been associated with COPD and this type of cramping is one of them. Besides the article at the top of this thread, I thought you would also find it helpful to look over this article on the very same topic: https://copd.net/living/relief-rib-cramping/. Wishing you well, Leon (site moderator)

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Lynn18,
    It is surprising how many complications you can have from one illness.
    Hope it eases up.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • easy
    1 year ago

    Welcome everyone. I’ve been given corticosteroid now, I’ve had strong convulsions on my bprd. I can stop it as soon as possible, trying to relax and blow the air (not so much as I can). So I know the easiest way to get rid of the muscle spasm (I do not always get it for the first time, but I repeat it.) I want a good breath!

    Hope it’s understandable – google translates. 🙂

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Easy,
    It is so hard to get the good breaths in and out. Mostly out and so it sounds like you are doing very good.
    Best Wishes
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi easy – thank you for sharing your method for dealing with muscle cramps. They can be very painful as you know, so it’s important to find a way to ease the pain as much as possible. We often recommend breathing exercises similiar to what it sounds like you’re doing. Excellent!

    Warm Regards,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Lynnilene
    2 years ago

    I do, occasionally, get cramp,pain in my intercostal muscles when I cough. So, I know what that feels like…
    but, my most troublesome symptom at present is below the ribs,where diaphragm is. It is not a “pain” but a severe pressure, like an tight elastic band. It is often oppressive.
    The only (temporary) relief I have is when I lay on my side in a loose fetal position.
    Unfortunately, the pressure increases when I get up,stand,walk.
    My Dr. shrug, and can only suggest rib xray. (Ive had all sorts of other tests) But it is NOT my ribs, and it is not a pain…it is a severe pressure/tightness, which often pulls me into a leaning position when walking.
    I just dont know what to do! (and neither do my Dr.s!)

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    I am so glad you have found some temporary relief,
    Keep talking to the doctor to come up with more ways to relieve some of your pain.

    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • CaroleAlden
    2 years ago

    I’m almost 70 and smoked for about 50 years. My long before we knew I had COPD I had rib cramping. It got so bad that it was the only thing I went to the Dr for and they never found out what was wrong. It felt like a man had hit me with his fist. They would have my ribs xrayed and it showed nothing. I retired two years early since and the Dr. still didn’t know what was wrong or that I had COPD. Years later, while i the hospital I had one and mentioned to the nurse, and she asked me about my coaching and flem. I might be having muscle spasms. She said hard couching with little or no fem might be the problem and brought me back a sheet about how to cough. Indeed, I had had terrible coughing, almost gagging and no or very little flem. I finally learned more at the hospitals classes on copd ect. Drink lots of water so the flem is thinner so you can couch if up easier and learn how to cough. I hardly have anymore rib pain and I don’t have the hard coughing anymore either and very little flem that’s easy to cough up.

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi CaroleAlden,
    It sounds like you could be on to something here. I think there are lots of heads shaking right now.
    Good for you for finding the answers that worked for you.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Casey Hribar moderator
    2 years ago

    Wow, CaroleAlden! What a story! Thank you for sharing that with us! I’m so sorry to hear that this has been going on for so long, and that it took a COPD diagnosis to figure it out! Thank you for sharing your advice with us as well. I know your fellow community members greatly appreciate it! We’re thinking of you, and sending positive thoughts your way! I’m SO glad to hear that your cramping has become much less severe and that your hard coughing has been put at bay as well! Please keep us updated, and I hope these patterns continue! -Casey, COPD.net Team

  • MickeyD
    3 years ago

    I’ve been experiencing rib cramps or spasms for a couple of years now, usually if I turn wrong or when laying down in bed. I will sit up to relieve some of the cramping or spasms, it’ll ease up, but once I lay back down it comes back. I have felt rather large knots where the spasms are. Oddly enough it’s easier to breathe when they happen. I will put a heating pad on the spot which helps ease it up quicker.

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi MickeyD,
    It sounds like you have found a way to get as much relief as you can. Perhaps keeping a diary of your cramping will reveal a pattern. Thank You for your comments.
    Barbara Moore (site Moderator)

  • Coffee cup
    3 years ago

    So glad to hear others have rib cramping too. I have been having them. You turn wrong, cough,or sneeze. If I can stand up I can get it to let go. But if you can’t the pain is terrible. If I stand to long in one place I will have cramps in my thighs that will grab you if try to sit or lay down. I told Dr. He said he didn’t know what would cause them. I had xrays, ultrasound nothing. On vitamins hope it helps.

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi Coffee Cup,
    It is hard for doctors to know what we are talking about. That is one of the reasons why we have to keep talking about the secondary symptoms.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi CoffeeCup – we appreciate your input to the community about rib cramping. I just provided LizM with a suggestion to visit our Facebook page where our community members have plenty to share about rib cramping. I thought you might find it helpful to read it all for yourself. You can access it here: https://www.facebook.com/copddotnet/posts/1717697355154949?comment_id=1880047965550817&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment&notif_id=1481415064122263
    Regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • LizM
    3 years ago

    I am so happy to find rib area cramping is “normal”. I told my pulmo Dr and received no answer. My family practice Dr gave me muscle relaxers which did nothing to stop them. As I also have leg cramps I have tried Magnesium and quinine water. I stay hydrated. I think I have had best results with the quinine. When I drink it regularly the cramps are infrequent and minor. Has anyone found a solution?

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi LizM
    It sounds like you might be on to something here, especially if it works for you.
    Magnesium is definitely a necessary mineral that can cause cramping with depletion..
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi LizM and thanks for sharing your experiences with rib cramping. We appreciate it. So many of our community members have expressed their opinions with rib cramping, that I thought you might want to check out that particular thread on our Facebook page and read more of their comments for yourself. You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/copddotnet/posts/1717697355154949?comment_id=1880047965550817&ref=notif&notif_t=share_comment&notif_id=1481415064122263
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • pacbunny500
    3 years ago

    Yes The rib cramping can stop me in my tracks. Washing dishes , cooking or standing for longer periods of time.
    Sitting or laying down. They seem to be coming more frequently and are more intense.

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi pacbunny500,

    Leon has made a good point. Perhaps a follow up with the doctor is necessary,
    I hope you find some relief,
    Barbara Moore (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Pacbunny500 and thanks for posting your experience with rib cramping. It sounds like your symptoms (of rib cramping) are persistent and even worsening. You may want to consider contacting your physician to be re-evaluated. Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • tsogle
    3 years ago

    My rib cramping was so bad at one point it hurt to breathe. I told my Doctor and I was sent for an X-ray. Nothing was found. I am so glad I saw this. Thanks.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Tsogle – We’re glad you found this to be so useful! You may want to check out our Facebook page, if you haven’t as yet: https://www.facebook.com/copddotnet/ You’ll find we are all about all things COPD.
    All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Katbah1 (from today’s post, below). We appreciate your question. We are unable to provide medical advice over the internet (for your own safety). We urge community members with specific questions about medication (like magnesium) and dosages to ask their doctor’s advice as to what will work best for them. Everyone’s COPD and symptoms may be similar but they are never the same. Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • 1sdmuyi
    4 years ago

    I’m amazed to find out that my rib cage cramping is related to COPD. I just never linked the two. I’ve never mentioned this to my Dr. because I just figured I moved wrong. Thanks for the info. I’m going to try to make a conscious effort to keep moving!

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 years ago

    Sounds like a plan 1sdmuyi! Now that you are more informed about rib cramping, you may want to mention it to your doctor after all. Get his/her opinion.
    If you haven’t as yet, you may want to check out our Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/copddotnet/ We are all about COPD. You will find like minded community members there. We are always available to lend an ear, share an anecdotal experience and provide scientific information. Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    Regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • peter3
    4 years ago

    I have had the same rib cramping, I find if I take magnesium every day I do not get them, its worth a try

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Pete and thanks for sharing your experience with rib cramping. You may want to check us out on Facebook – we are all about COPD.
    You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/copddotnet/
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Gardenlady
    4 years ago

    I am new here, but hardly new to COPD. I “Liked” the Facebook page, started reading the posts and am so grateful to be able to hear from people who know what COPD is like. I have to say…THIS article just made my day. I have pains and cramping in my chest if I move the wrong way and I thought I was going nuts. I feel so much better knowing it’s just another one of those “fun” side effects.

  • Erin Rush moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Gardenlady and welcome to COPD.net! We’re glad you found us! And thank you for taking the time to comment here. This article has really resonated with the COPD.net community, as it is a symptom that gets little recognition, even sometimes in the medical community. You are not alone and you are most definitely not going nuts! As you said, it’s just another symptom that can come along with a COPD diagnosis. Feel free to keep looking around and don’t hesitate to pose any questions you might have to the community. We’re glad to help in any way that we can. Thanks again for joining us! Have a good night! Best, Erin, COPD.net Team Member.

  • azkittkatt1165
    4 years ago

    I get these cramps and the hard stomach also and when I mentioned this to my lung specialist he looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language or asking him a question that would be for some other doctor of some other illness. It’s very difficult to feel like you are being taken seriously and I think that many doctors need to realize that their best source of new info can be from what a patient tells them. I know they spent many years and dollars on education, but, unless they actually have the illness themselves, they can’t really know just what effect it has on the body unless they listen. Also, I have had a very difficult time being taken seriously concerning the possibility of having Pulmonary Hypertension as a result of the COPD, sleep apnea and pulmonary embolism episodes I have had. I like my doctor, but I am more and more learning toward getting a second opinion.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Askittkatt and thanks for sharing your experiences.
    It’s quite a challenge finding just the right doctor – you make excellent points about the importance of them listening to their patients. If you feel a second opinion is in order so that your concerns are met, I would urge you to do just that!
    Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing.
    Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Not to bad
    4 years ago

    Yes I get very bad cramp it seem to be a lot worse when I am on steroids and antibiotics

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