Have you ever had muscle spasms or cramping around the ribcage, also known as rib cramps? Even though many of our COPD community members experience rib cramping, doctors and researchers know very little about this symptom, making rib cramps frustrating, as well as uncomfortable. To better understand and help this strange symptom, we asked our COPD community what strategies they use to relieve rib cramps. While everyone is different and it’s always best to talk to your doctor before trying anything new, here are some of the suggestions you all shared:
“Gatorade usually takes them away.”
“Sometimes tonic water”
“I’ll drink a little pickle juice.”
For individuals with COPD, staying hydrated is an important part of managing your condition. Dehydration can also lead to muscle cramps, so drinking plenty of water may help to prevent cramping around the ribs. To relieve the discomfort associated with rib cramps, some of our community members rely on specific beverages, such as sports drinks and tonic water. However, for individuals with COPD, certain drinks are healthier than others, so be sure to talk to your healthcare team about the best drinks for you.
“Sometimes, I can walk them out.”
“I lay down on the opposite side and stretch my other arm over my head. It helps most times.”
“Don’t double over! Try to stretch it out.”
“In recliner, I can stretch it out some and get some relief.”
For some people with COPD, stretching and walking can relax rib cramps. Regular physical activity is one of the most important parts of managing COPD, and ‘walking it out’ during a rib cramp may help to relieve the pain. For some of you, gentle stretches, especially stretching the muscles around the chest and ribs, can also help with cramping. You can try stretching from a chair or bed, or even leaning on a table or counter to gently stretch the area where you feel discomfort. However, for some of our community members, rib cramps are actually triggered by twisting, reaching, or stretching too far, so first and foremost, be sure to listen to your body!
“I would suggest a good massage therapist for everyone…that’s what helps me.”
“I just try to massage it out and it doesn’t last too long”
“Very gently massage”
To treat muscle spasms and muscle ‘knots’ around the chest and ribs, some community members use massage. If you are able, a professional massage therapist may be able to reduce some of the pain and tension in your chest and rib muscles. Some community members have also found relief on their own by gently rubbing or massaging the cramped area.
4. Breathing Strategies
“I purse my lips and breath out. It helps.”
“Don’t straighten up suddenly, do slow pursed lip breathing and hold onto something until it passes.”
“I stretch slowly and hold it, then breathe in and out to relax the muscles.”
Taking part in a pulmonary rehab program and practicing breathing strategies can be an important part of managing COPD. According to some community members, breathing techniques can also relieve the discomfort of rib cramps. For many of you, pursed-lip breathing, or even just stopping to take a few slow breaths, reduces cramps.
5. Natural Remedies
“I take a magnesium supplement. It stopped mine”
“I use heating pad and essential oils, it does help.”
“I take magnesium and calcium”
“I have used ‘Two Old Goats’ and it has helped….I had a doctor tell me about it. Sure helps with pain and cramps.”
There are many natural remedies for COPD, including magnesium supplements and herbal treatments. Many community members also turn to these complementary therapies, including magnesium, calcium, and essential oils, to manage their rib cramps. Because magnesium can interact with COPD medications, be sure to talk to your doctor before using magnesium products, or any other complementary therapies.
6. Over The Counter/Prescription Medications
“Muscle relaxer sometimes helps”
“I take an aspirin and hold a pillow tight on my ribs until it passes.”
Your COPD treatment plan may include medications to manage pain or discomfort associated with your condition, as well as both Over-The-Counter (OTC) and prescription medications. To relieve the discomfort of rib cramps, some COPDers use medications, such as aspirin or muscle relaxers. If you want to try medications to relieve your rib cramps, be sure to talk to your doctor first about what options are best for you.
According to our COPD community members, relief from rib cramps comes from a variety of sources, including hydration, physical activity, breathing techniques, alternative therapies, and medications. Before trying any new treatment or technique, be sure to talk to your doctor about what methods are safe for you. We hope that some of these strategies will help relieve your rib cramping discomfort, and you can always reach out to the COPD community for more ideas and share your own!!!