What causes intercostal neuralgia?

Intercostal neuralgia can be caused by a variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions. This includes infection, inflammation, trauma, malignancy, and other abnormal processes. A common cause of intercostal neuralgia is surgery that involves the thoracic (chest) cavity. This type of surgery often requires spreading apart the ribs, which can damage the intercostal nerves.

Causes of intercostal neuralgia include:

  • Chest or rib injury, such as a broken rib or bruised chest

  • Intercostal nerve entrapment

  • Nerve degeneration

  • Neuritis (inflammation of a nerve or group of nerves)

  • Pregnancy, which can cause the rib cage to expand to make room for the fetus

  • Pulled or strained muscle in the chest wall, shoulders, back or arm

  • Rib infection

  • Shingles (reactivation of the varicella zoster virus)

  • Surgery on organs, bones and tissues in the thoracic cavity, such as kidneys, ribs and spine

  • Tumors in the chest and abdomen, which can press on the intercostal nerves. These tumors can be either malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous).

What are the risk factors for intercostal neuralgia?

A number of factors increase your risk of developing intercostal neuralgia. Risk factors include:

Infection with varicella zoster virus, the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles

Participation in sports that involve high speeds or contact with other athletes, such as skiing, snowboarding, football, wrestling and rugby

Unsafe driving and motor vehicle accidents, which may cause injury to the ribs and the intercostal nerves

Reducing your risk of intercostal neuralgia

These healthy lifestyle habits may help prevent intercostal neuralgia and the injuries that may cause it:

  • Driving motor vehicles safely

  • Getting vaccinated with the chickenpox vaccine

  • Getting vaccinated with the herpes zoster or shingles vaccine if you are 60 years of age or older

  • Wearing a seat belt when driving or riding in any kind of motor vehicle

  • Wearing appropriate protective sports equipment, such as helmets and padding


What is intercostal neuralgia?

Intercostal neuralgia is a rare condition that causes pain along the intercostal nerves. Intercostal nerves are located between your ribs. Ribs are long, slender bones that curve around your chest to create your rib cage. The top 10 ribs on both sides of your body attach to your thoracic (midback) spine and breastbone (sternum). The bottom two ribs attach to your spine, but not to your breastbo... Read more about intercostal neuralgiaintroduction


What are the symptoms of intercostal neuralgia?

The main symptom of intercostal neuralgia is pain in the rib cage area, often described as stabbing, sharp, spasm-like, tearing, tender, aching or gnawing. The pain may wrap around your chest or radiate from the back toward the front of your chest in a band-like pattern. Sometimes you may feel pain uniformly along the length of your ribs.

Intercostal neuralgia may occur in sporadi... Read more about intercostal neuralgiasymptoms


How is intercostal neuralgia treated?

Intercostal neuralgia may resolve on its own or it may require treatment. Treatments include:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 2, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Brain and Nerves, Bones, Joints and Muscles