Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Community Feedback: Relief For Rib Cramping

Community Feedback: Relief For Rib Cramping

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.

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.

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.

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!!!


  • Linnie
    3 months ago

    I get the feeling of rib cramps in my upper left chest when I move around a lot, cough a lot, exercise, etc. I told my pulmonologist and he stated to just keep exercising!!!! I am at a loss for what I can do.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi again, Linnie, and thanks for joining in the conversation here, about rib cramps. As you can see, many in our community have experiences with this symptom. I’m glad you mentioned this to your physician? How do you plan to manage this since the doctor suggested you continue to exercise? Is the pain manageable? Leon (site moderator)

  • luvmylife1948
    1 year ago

    I never drank natural water. It always had a tea bag in it. I used to get severe chest pain and thought I was having a heart attack. I found out later that my body was ceasing up. My daughter having done personal training and nutrition told me that drinking a glass of water upon waking and one last thing at night can stop many a heart attack. I now drink two glasses of water every morning upon waking and my chest pain has stopped. Plus my joints become more lubricated with the water so work better. I could have saved myself a lot of pain if I had done this 40yrs ago. I would have been in better health. But never too late to start. Now I drink water. Have less tea and feel better for it. I have also discovered the benefits of taking Apple Cider Vinegar for good health. You can research this and find out all the information.

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing that information, luvmylife1948! I also make it a habit to drink a full glass of water each morning before I do anything else. Hydration is so important!

    So glad you’ve found some things that have helped you feel better.

    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Alesandra Bevilacqua moderator
    1 year ago

    Thank you for sharing with us, luvmylife1948! I’m glad to hear you’re feeling better! – Alesandra ( Team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi luvmylife1948 and thanks for your post. You’re right – “it’s never too late” is a great attitude and approach to have. Glad you’ve found water as a cure for some of your concerns. Keep up the good work! Leon (site moderator)

  • Marilyn
    2 years ago

    I just started having the rib cramping about a month ago. Didn’t know what it was or what to do about it. I just know it hurt so bad I could hardly stand it. No one seems to know the cause or how to prevent it. Going to talk to my Dr and see if he has an answer.
    Bad enough we can’t breathe good and adding this to it is a little much to handle.
    Prayers to all fighting this awful disease. Hugs

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Marilyn and thanks for your post. This has been a topic of considerable conversation here on our website and also on our COPD Facebook page. Please do check back with us and let us know what your physician says. Good luck! All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • wally2
    2 years ago

    helo everyone, I get realy bad rib cramps and even though I’m on very strong painrelief the pain still breaks through. I have copd and had a 3rd of my lung taken away 11 months ago, doc says its nerve damage but I know its a different type of pain, now I know this sounds a bit crazy but it always comes on after eating an apple, the whole of my ribcage hurts and it goes around to my back ,no upset stomach and no indigestion, just rib cramp


  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi wally2 (brian) – sorry to hear what you’re going through with the rib cramps and the ‘trigger’ being an apple. This may seem obvious, but I would guess you’re avoiding eating apples now! Is that the only time you’re experiencing the pain?
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • TracyCarnahan
    2 years ago

    I used to have sever rib cramping and finally discovered that medications I was taking were the primary cause. Advair diskus causes rib cramping in me. Which is unfortunate since it also works like a miracle drug on my breathing. The cramping is so bad that I am forced to use Spirivia instead. The other drug I take that causes rib cramping for me is a diuretic. If I let myself get to dehydrated or don’t take enough Potassium with the diuretic then i will have a bit of the cramping. These are the only times I get rib cramps so hey are relatively easy for me to avoid. Thank goodness because all that twisting and flopping around on my bed like a fish out of water is horrible and hurts something awful.

  • Casey Hribar moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi TracyCarnahan! Thank you for taking the time to share that with us! First of all, I’m so sorry to hear that you found a medication that was helpful, but that contributed to this uncomfortable and painful side effect! Ugh! Do you notice a huge difference between the Advair and Spiriva? How frustrating! Very interesting to hear about the diuretic and your cramping. It sounds like you know how to monitor your health well and know what your body needs and how to prevent certain situations. I’m glad to hear that overall, the rib cramping is decreasing in frequency. Loved your imagery with the fish out of water flopping, but so sorry to hear you were in that much discomfort!! Please keep us posted! We’re thinking of you! Sending gentle hugs your way! -Casey, Team

  • Poll