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 sporadic episodes of acute pain or it may be dull and constant. The pain of intercostal neuralgia may intensify with exertion. This includes activities such as lifting heavy objects, twisting or turning your torso, coughing, sneezing, or laughing.

Intercostal neuralgia may involve other symptoms including:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Itchiness

  • Numbness

  • Pain in your arm, shoulder or back

  • Restricted mobility of your shoulders or back

  • Tingling

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Intercostal neuralgia can cause severe, debilitating pain that makes it difficult to breathe. In addition, pain in the rib cage or chest area may be caused by a condition other than intercostal neuralgia that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. A heart attack is an example. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have unexplained, severe pain in your rib cage or any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest or rib pain, which may spread to the left arm, jaw, shoulder, or back

  • Chest pressure, cramping, tightness, or a tearing sensation in the chest

  • Coughing up yellow-green phlegm (mucus)

  • Heart palpitations or a fluttering feeling in the chest

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as severe shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, or inability to take a full breath

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Severe chest pain when breathing or coughing

  • Sudden confusion, dizziness, or change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness


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 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.
Read more about intercostal neuralgiacauses


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