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Rib Pain During Pregnancy: Causes and How to Relieve It

Pregnancy is an exciting time for most, as you prepare to bring a new person into the world and make plans for them, tracking their growth and counting down to their due date. However, it doesn’t come without its challenges, with the toll it takes on your body being especially noticeable. 

From a growing stomach to morning sickness, there are some changes that you may have anticipated and accepted early on, while other developments may still be yet to come. One of those developments might be rib pain, which may cause you worry as well as discomfort.

In our guide, we’ll take you through what causes rib pain during pregnancy and how you can relieve it, so it is more manageable for you to deal with.

Causes of Rib Pain

There are a few different reasons why you may be struggling with rib pain during your pregnancy, each one varying on the scale of severity and intensity. Some may feel discomfort rather than outright pain, while others may struggle more, which can be indicative of the cause. Be assured that rib pain is common, and so your cause for it most likely will be too:

The Baby: As your baby grows inside you, they will put pressure on your internal organs and ribs as they take up more room, which may make you struggle to breathe more than you normally would. Alternatively, the baby may have caused you some rib pain if they caught your ribs when kicking

Hormones: Pregnancy hormones commonly cause ligaments to soften, which can cause the bones in your ribcage to move more than they normally would, potentially causing some pain

Gallstones: Your body has higher oestrogen levels during pregnancy, while also slowing down the rate that it empties the gallbladder. For these reasons, pregnancy can lead to the formation of gallstones. While these rarely present symptoms, some stones may cause pain, notably in the ribs

Heartburn: As mentioned when talking about the baby as a cause for rib pain, they are putting pressure on your internal organs. This includes your stomach, which can cause heartburn, which may feel like rib pain. Acid reflux and indigestion may also cause you rib pain during this time for the same reason

UTI: Although Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are not exclusive to pregnancy, you have a higher risk of developing one while pregnant. You may be wondering how a urine condition can be connected to ribs, which is actually through your kidneys. Because your kidneys remove waste from your body, UTIs can cause pain them, which can feel very similar to rib pain

Preeclampsia or HELLP: These are the two most serious causes of rib pain on this list, as they can be life-threatening. If you get sudden rib pain on your right side, accompanied with dizziness, spotty vision, headaches and nausea, then see a medical professional right away, as these are symptoms of preeclampsia and HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes and Low Platelet, a form of preeclampsia). Preeclampsia won’t go away until after your child’s birth, but contact a doctor as soon as you can, so that they can test you and keep track of it throughout your pregnancy, for the safety of both yourself and your baby. However, please bear in mind that according to the NHS, these two conditions are rare. Most pregnancy-related rib pain is common and unlikely to affect you in the long term

Exercises to Relieve Rib Pain

A great way to relieve some of the rib pain you’re experiencing during your pregnancy is to carry out some simple, light exercises. These are all perfectly safe for you to carry out whilst pregnant and also beneficial:

Modified Child’s Pose: Sitting on the backs of your legs, gently stretch your hands out, moving one forward at a time and bringing your bottom up, to take you as far as your pregnancy stomach will allow into child’s pose. Take five deep breaths, then slowly walk your hands backwards to return to your original position. Repeat at least twice

Shoulder Stretch: Sitting down, put one hand on the back of your neck and use the other hand to grab the elbow of the first hand, which should be pointing upwards. Gently press the elbow further back and softly bend your upper body sideways to feel a stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat at least three times

Pelvic Tilt: Starting on your hands and knees, tilt your hips forward and pull your abdomen in, rounding your back out as you do so. Hold for five seconds, then release and repeat at least five times

Other Ways to Relieve Rib Pain

Exercising is a great way to relieve rib pain, but it might be a bit too strenuous or intimidating for some to want to attempt on their own. Here are some other ways to relieve rib pain, which are a little bit lower in effort, but can still be very effective: 

Straighten your posture when sitting: Slouching puts more pressure on your ribs, while also decreasing your lung capacity. By sitting up straight, you can release some rib pain (particularly if it is connected to heartburn)

More supportive bra and looser clothing: Your breasts will have grown during this period, putting more pressure on your back and rib area. Make sure you buy some well-fitting, supporting bras during this time. Additionally, wearing looser clothes will help you with your movement and should relieve some of your pregnancy pain

Heat pad or ice over sore area: Both of these can be effective, as long as they aren’t used for over 10 minutes on the affected area at a time. Some people may be wary about using a heat pad during pregnancy, but as long as it is not hot enough to raise your own temperature, it is perfectly safe. 

Try to change the baby’s position: This is a tricky one, and you may not be able to achieve it, but it may be worth it if you can currently feel your baby putting pressure against your ribs.You can try bouncing gently but consistently on an exercise ball, doing some pelvic tilts or yoga

Osteopath or Physiotherapist: Because your body is constantly changing during this period, you would benefit from meeting with a professional osteopath or physiotherapist, who can work with you to ease some of the pains and strains you might be dealing with. Additionally, you can tell them your specific body aches and pains, so that they can best work out which exercises you need to relieve them.

Dealing with Rib Pain During Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a life-changing experience, particularly with what the end result is. The nine months leading up to your child’s birth can be difficult, particularly if this is your first pregnancy, so it is important to take care of your mind and body during this time. We hope that with this guide, you have a clearer idea of how to handle rib pain during your pregnancy, as well as how to identify what may be causing it. 

If you have identified the cause of your rib pain as a non-life-threatening one, but are still struggling with it, contact us to find out where your nearest clinic is. Our osteopaths and physiotherapists would be happy to work with you and do what they can to make this exciting time a little less challenging for you. 

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