There are several reasons why breathing may cause pains in your shoulder – some of which are serious and may require immediate medical attention.

In particular, heart or lung conditions can lead to pain in your chest or shoulder during breathing. If you experience sudden chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, or fatigue with your shoulder pain, please visit the ER immediately.

For less serious conditions, the most common cause of shoulder pain when breathing is likely due to straining the joint capsules of your ribs, which can cause sharp pain in the middle and upper back, including your shoulders.

Read on below if you want to know more about rib sprains and how Osteopathy and remedial massage treatment can help.

The Anatomy Of Your Ribs

Your ribs are quite further up your body than you think, illustrated in the diagram below – starting just where your collar bone sits and going down to the waist area.


The ribs function to protect the lungs from any damage and allow for movement for you to breathe.

The ribs have two connection points, one at the spine in the back and the other at the breast bone in front of the chest. In addition, two small sets of muscles sit between each to allow for movement while also serving as attachment points for larger muscles.

How Rib Sprains Happen

Rib sprains often occur in the joint capsules that surround the ribs, with the costotransverse and costovertebral joints being the most commonly affected. In short, the middle and upper ribs are more commonly affected than the lower ribs, though lower rib sprains can still occur.

Rib sprains are actually quite common and can be caused by seemingly mundane actions such as twisting your body while sneezing, coughing, or improperly lifting a heavy object.

Apart from sudden movement, rib sprains can also occur due to constant stress placed on your back’s support structures, such as poor posture, extended time spent working at a desk or computer, sleeping in an awkward position, pregnancy, or sudden weight gain.

Rib Sprain Symptoms

Among the symptoms of rib sprains include:

  • Upper back or shoulder pain
  • Localised back pain (typically on one specific side)
  • Pain may be accentuated by deep breathing, coughing, or sneezing
  • Restriction of movement in the upper body

Management And Treatment Of Rib Sprains

Shoulder muscle pain treatment  due to rib sprains generally consists of anti-inflammatory medication to reduce the initial pain and inflammation. Once it has settled a bit, manual therapy such as remedial massage treatment and osteopathy can reduce the tension through the muscles and improve movement through the middle back and rib cage.

As for managing rib sprains, such as the pain in your shoulders and mid-to-lower back, here are a few remedies below that can help:

1. Heat and Cold Treatment

Applying a cold pack over the affected area can help ease the pain and reduce potential discomfort. Place the ice pack or cold pack over the injured area for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day for the first few days.

Once the inflammation has subsided, you can start to apply heat instead, as it can help increase blood flow to the area and relax the muscles, offering better results from physical therapy. Apply heat to the affected area for 20 minutes using a heat pad or a warm towel.

2. Spiky Ball Massage

This type of self-massage is specifically for managing shoulder and upper-body pain caused by rib sprains. The spiky ball can help to reduce muscle tension, improve blood flow, reduce pain levels and help in injury prevention and rehabilitation in the affected area.

To use, stand with your back against the wall with the spiky ball on your body between the shoulder blades. Use your body weight to apply pressure to the ball and roll it around on the affected area.

Note – Do contact your osteopath if you plan to do this massage, as doing this massage too early in the healing process may aggravate your injuries.

3. Mermaids

It’s a great exercise to get movement through the middle back and ribs. It’s also one of the best ways to relieve lower back pain and strengthen your spine.

Here’s a video showing how to do it below:

It’s important to get enough rest and not overexert yourself during the first few days of the injury, so keep that in mind before doing any strenuous remedial exercise.

Looking for Treatment to Help with Your Shoulder or Rib Pain?

If you’re looking for osteopathy in Croydon, there’s no better centre than Healing Hands Osteopathy. We’ll take a thorough history and physical assessment and provide specific treatment and advice.

With some of the best osteopaths in Ferntree Gully, we’re committed to giving you the best remedial therapy and osteopathy treatment to assist with your shoulder or rib pain.

Book your appointment here today!


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When you first arrive, you will be asked to fill in a personal information sheet which includes questions relating to your past medical history and your presenting complaint. You will then move to the consulting room where your osteopath will take a detailed history…

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