Intercostal neuralgia is a rare disorder which is often initially misdiagnosed due to the ambiguity of some of the symptoms. Between your ribs are muscles that contract when you inhale. These are called intercostals muscles. Intercostal neuralgia is pain in these muscles, often spasmodic in nature.
Intercostal neuralgia is caused by nerve compression in the thoracic/abdominal area (ribcage area). Various conditions can cause this pinched nerve like: a rupture in abdominal tissue, a distended abdomen, scar tissue around the nerve, overused muscles in the abdomen and other conditions of the musculoskeletal system, like an irregular curvature of the vertebrae or having one leg shorter than the other. The resulting pain is sharp and spasmodic in the ribcage area.
The No. 1 symptom is spasmodic pain occurring around the ribs. Due to the placement of the nerve, the pain may cause breathing, laughing or sneezing to be painful. Other symptoms include left sided pain in the back, pain in the left side of the ribs, tingling, numbness, loss of appetite, paralysis and atrophy of the muscles. In severe cases, the pain may feel like a lightening bolt and can extend to the back.
Treatments for intercostals neuralgia are similar to those for sciatica. Analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, blood thinners, weight loss and patient education are some of the predominant treatments. Injecting a local anesthetic, such as Xylocaine or Lidocaine, into the area has had some success but should be done only be a licensed physician. In certain cases, the nerve that is generating the pain must be destroyed. In cases of scar tissue, the tissue must be excised to free the nerve and release pressure.
Invasive procedures and strong medications are standard for treating intercostal neuralgia pain, but many patients explore alternative therapies and more natural ways of alleviating the symptoms. Ice, cold therapy, acupuncture and acupressure have all shown promising results. There have been no proven cures, and none of the alternative therapies have been studied for long-term relief of the pain associated with intercostal neuralgia.
Spasmodic, lightening-like pain in the ribcage area, along with other symptoms like decreased appetite, back and side pain and numbness or tingling could be symptoms of intercostal neuralgia. The pain may come and go, but if you suspect you are suffering from this condition, you should seek medical attention to properly diagnose your condition and to determine the correct treatment plan for you.