Why Does My Right Rib Hurt When I Cough

Three Reasons Why My Right Rib Hurts

Overview: Why Does My Right Rib Hurt When I Cough

The skeletal system includes the ribcage as one of its components. The Chest wall muscles and the rib cage protect the organs in the upper body, such as the heart and lungs. Does this mean that whatever happens in this region could be why my right rib hurts when I cough? Let’s find out…

Pain in the rib cage is a frequent medical complaint with a wide variety of potential causes, from a bruised or damaged organ to a broken rib and in the worst-case scenario: lung cancer. It is usually very difficult to tell the part as it can be so scary. Yet, it is possible that the source of the sharp pain in the rib you are feeling when coughing is not from an internal organ, but rather your ribs: a bruised rib.

Why Do My Ribs Hurt When I Cough?

Three Reasons Why My Right Rib Hurts

The pains experienced could be sharp and intense or dull and lingering. Sharp pain in the rib when coughing can be a result of either of these:

Three Reasons Why My Right Rib Hurts

1. Bruised Or Broken Ribs

Here are some of the common causes of bruised ribs

  • Injury from sports or exercise
  • Accidents
  • Blunt force e.g. punch or fall
  • Prolonged and/or severe cough

Symptoms: the associated symptoms of bruised or broken ribs include but are not limited to

  1. Swelling in the affected area
  2. Discolouration: the affected area may turn red, or purple
  3. Pain: in movement, at rest or while breathing, coughing, or sneezing.

2. Musculoskeletal

Long-term coughing can put a lot of pressure on the muscles surrounding the rib cage. The stress may cause sore ribs and other breathing-related problems. You may have problems moving your arms and shoulders. Even sneezing or taking a deep breath might be uncomfortable. This is one of the reasons why your right rib may pain you when you cough

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Also, back, chest, or rib pain might result from coughing into the same sleeve or elbow repeatedly. With the arm elevated in front of the chest, this position strains the muscles around the chest when coughing. Coughing into the same sleeve, such as the right, might strain the right rib muscles and joints, causing acute anterior rib and chest pain. As a result, severe or mild pain may be felt at the right or left rib as the case may be.

3. Referred Pain

In addition, referred pain emanating from the lungs, heart or other internal organs can cause discomfort in the rib cage. Common bodily movements like coughing, laughing, breathing or sneezing can aggravate these pains. These pains can be a resultant effect of:

  • Costochondritis: This is a common cause of pain in the rib. It is rib cartilage inflammation. This ailment causes discomfort and sensitivity at the sternum, where the ribs meet. In this case, severe coughing or sneezing will hurt the ribs, making breathing unpleasant. Does it hurt under your right arm when you cough? You could have costochondritis if pressing your breastbone-rib joint hurts.
  • Pleurisy: Pleurisy is inflammation of the pleura. Lungs and chest are lined with pleura. Inhalation and exhalation are smoother when the pleura space, a narrow gap between its layers, is filled with fluid. Infection or injury causes blood or air to fill the pleura space, producing friction and shortness of breath.
  • Other serious underlying health issues like pneumonia, embolism and lung cancer.


  • To avoid stressing the same side of your rib cage, switch right and left sleeves and elbows when coughing.
  • Apply a cold compress to stressed muscles of the ribs to reduce inflammation
  • Take medication for lingering coughs and bruises sustained during sports or exercise
  • Rest on the unaffected side of the rib to reduce pressure on the affected part

However, contact your doctor if you notice any of these:

  • Rib cage soreness that does not go away with rest or mild medications. If the discomfort persists after 3–4 days, visit a doctor.
  • Pains that increase with time rather than decrease.
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive mucus in the lungs
  • Mucus mixed with blood or coughing out blood
  • Pre-existing medical conditions associated with the lungs and heart.
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