Pain in the Lower Rib Cage

by Ed

Many people get aches and pains or a feeling of fullness in the lower rib cage. Often they have no obvious organic cause and Western Medicine does not treat them. Even more often the symptoms are so vague that people don’t bother to tell their doctors about it.

Traditional Chinese Medicine recognises several conditions that could produce those symptoms. In fact they are often early warning signs which, if treated, can save a person from developing a more severe condition. If you have an intense pain that is localized on one side of the rib cage, you should see a doctor about it. If you have more vague pain on both sides of the rib cage, then try the tips at the end of this post or see your acupuncturist.

In Chinese Medicine, when we talk about the internal organs we are talking about more than the anatomical/ physiological organs as Western Medicine understands them. We are talking about their energetic functions along the entire course of the meridian they are associated with. Each organ is also associated with an emotion or complex of emotions, a body tissue, and a sense organ. The liver is associated with the lower rib cage. It is also associated with anger, frustration, stress, and suppression of emotions. It has to do with the free flowing quality in everything in our lives. Vague pain in the lower rib cage usually is a result of the liver energy becoming stagnant. This frequently leads to indigestion and gassiness as well.

I have three favorite ways of returning the liver to its natural free flowing state:

  • The Inner Smile I have described this one in an earlier post, here.

  • The Seven Shakes This is a good one to do in groups. If you are in a meeting or teaching a class and everyone is losing focus and looking sleepy get them up and do the seven shakes. Stand up and shake your right arm seven times, counting out loud. Then shake your left arm, right leg, and left leg seven times each. Then shake them 6 times, 5 times, etc., down to one time. Finish by jumping into a karate stance, or any stance you like and shout Ha!

  • Qi Gong: Liver Healing Sound Stand with your feet about shoulder width and parallel. As you inhale raise your hands into the air as if you were embracing th sky. Holding your breath, bring your arms down until the elbows are pressing your ribs cage and your palms are facing your face. Close your hands into fists and lean over as if you were skiing and exhale with the sound shhh. Repeat three to seven times.

Doing each of these exercises every day will certainly lower your stress and increase your energy. If your rib cage pain is due to simple liver energy congestion, it should relieve that as well. Have fun and keep moving.

Update: I am no longer accepting comments on this post. It is not reasonable for me to try to guess what your particular problem might be.


1 Ed 10.10.10 at 10:16 am

Hi Leann,
Given the suddenness and the intensity of your pain, I think I would go to ER and have it checked out.

2 sreesakthi 10.24.10 at 3:10 am

My left side bones get pain whenever am coughing due to severe cold!!!this could be a problem??

3 beck 11.10.10 at 3:24 pm

Hi Ed,
Im 25 and at work last night when i took a deep breath, i had a short but very sharp sudden pain under lower right rib cage. Then a little later on at work, it happened again.
It really hurt, and its never happened before last night…
Any idea what it was or why it happened?
Its really worried me quite a bit…
And im worried it might happen again.
Please get back to me soon, Thanks.

4 Ed 11.10.10 at 3:46 pm

Hi Beck,
It could be a number of things. I would not worry about it. If it does not happen again, it was possibly a muscle spasm or perhaps a gas pain. If it keeps recurring, it could be a muscle spasm or displaced rib Check with a chiropractor, massage therapist or acupuncturist. If it gets worse, or you get continuous pain, see your doctor.

5 zephyr 11.22.10 at 11:09 pm

I’m experiencing pain in my lower right rib cage and it goes through my back. I don’t know what could this be but every time I walk, I’m feeling that pain. Also, when I had to sit down when I am watching TV, I also feel that pain. When I lay down on bed, I also feel it. I don’t know what is it and I’m very bothered about it. It does not occur often. I observed that when I eat and drink, it occurs. I admit this is a source of irritation and depression to me. What could be the possible reason why I am experiencing the pain? I am 23 years old and working as an accounting staff and oftentimes, I had to sit down because of computer works. The only time that I have to stand was when I had to go to the CR and pantry. Can you give some comforting advice about my situation?


6 Ed 11.23.10 at 11:35 am

Hi Melanie,

My first guess would be a Gall Bladder problem, except that seems unlikely at your age. If you can, get it checked by an MD. You may also want to get a second opinion from an acupuncturist or naturopath.

7 zephyr 11.24.10 at 1:01 am

Thanks. But for now I am afraid to consult the doctor. It might give me a depression once I knew the result. But for now, I will do the observation and if it doesn’t stop, I have no other option than to see the doctor. But do you know what foods to avoid if in case this is really on gall bladder problem?… Thank you very much and from time to time, I’ll consult you…

8 Ed 11.24.10 at 12:57 pm

The main thing to avoid with gall bladder problems is greasy, fatty foods.

9 Andi 12.12.10 at 9:43 pm

I have a pain in my lower, left rib area. It almost feels like I have something inside me, but I can’t feel anything when I palp the area (no bulges either.) pain is intermittant, sometimes feels tingly, or like I put ‘icy hot’ on the area. BTW, I do have gall stones. I’ve been managing well since my diagnosis 2 years ago by limiting fats and using digestive enzymes when I eat. But lately, my gall bladder has been feeling stressed, and the pain on the left started around the same time as my rrecent gall bladder pain.

10 Andi 12.12.10 at 9:47 pm

See above – I forgot to mention, that I have no pain with deep breaths or when i bend and stretch.

11 Ed 12.13.10 at 3:51 pm

Hi Andi,
From what you have said, I would guess it is related to your gall bladder problem. Get that under control and see how it is. If you are still having problems see your doctor or other health practitioner.

12 Linda 12.25.10 at 10:24 am

Hi Ed,

I’m a 22 yr old female I been having this pain on my left back side of my rib for the past three days! Followed by fever and head aches and as well hurts my ribs and pelvic to breath! As well for very sharp pain in the middle of my spine! From a scale 1-10 my pain is a nine I have to take so much medicine foe the pain to go away.

13 sheryl 01.28.11 at 2:07 pm

I have pain n my ribs that feels like a muscle is coming through my ribs when I twist or turn to side. The pain only goes away if I stant up and.lift my arms above my head. It hurts to the point it take my breath away. My doctor says its nothing but nothing shouldn’t hurt like this. What do u think?

14 Ed 01.28.11 at 2:43 pm

Hi Sheryl,
When doctors say it is nothing, they usually mean it is not life threatening and there is nothing they can do about it. Probably it is a muscle in spasm. Rib cage muscle spasms can be very painful. Deep breathing and the exercises I suggest in this post should help. A massage therapist or acupuncturist should be able to clear it up for you

15 Sammi 03.04.11 at 10:18 am


Well I started getting this weird almost kinda sharp and sore pain on the right side (lower part) of my ribs. I could pin point where the pain and soreness is…it hurts kinda to breathe in deep, when I move around a lot like walk or run, when i go to bed at night it especially kinda hurts because i lay down on my stomach when i sleep also on my side…Its been almost a whole week that this has been going on. I’ve never had this pain before…I’m only 20 years old I can’t imagine it being anything incredibly bad really but it makes doing things really hard. physically I took vitamins and ibuprofen and it still didn’t really help

16 Kevin 03.04.11 at 8:44 pm

I’m a 15 yr old boy, and I’ve had sharp pains in my left side below my rib cage, it only happens when I jumprope when I exhale. Also it occurs when I exhale when I have bad posture while walking . PLEASE HELP!!! This has just started 4 days ago

17 Ed 03.05.11 at 9:20 am

Hi Sammi and Kevin,

You both sound like you have a muscle pull. I would try my suggestions in this post and see how yo are doing. An acupuncturist or massage therapist could probably help you heal faster.

18 Francis 03.06.11 at 1:45 pm

Hi ,

I had an injury on the left side back rib while doing go karting. When i banged the side tyres the kart was bounced back. So my body came front and dashed back on the seat corners and hit my back rib. I met a doctor next day and he took an xray and said everything is fine and gave me a aceclofenac & Paracetamol tablet for 10 days. Its exactly 3 weeks now. I have a pain exactly on the end of tip of the left side rib exactly where the left front rib and left back rib joins. This is also only when i press it. Otherwise i feel it as a discomfort only. At the same time when i bend myself in the front. I feel that the same pain moves to the back of the left side rib. So i feel something behind the rib which pains. Since it moves it pains wherever it is located. I am currently only taking Advil and Ranitidine. Please advise what this could be.

19 Alice 03.21.11 at 11:03 am

Hi Ed,

I’ve had this a few times where both sides along the 3rd/4th rib up have pain. When I rub my hands along that 4th rib, I feel sore and sharp pain. The pain is above the rib and just under my skin. When I massage it, it feels like I have knots there as I would if I were to massage a tense shoulder. It usually lasts for a day or so and goes away. Because it does not last nor does it happen often, I have not talked to a doctor about it. Any idea what it could be?

It does not hurt when I breath or move any parts of my body.

20 Ed 03.21.11 at 11:22 am

Hi Alice,
That sounds like a knot in a muscle, just like you think. It may be that you don’t breathe enough. In any case, my suggestions in this post are perfect for you. Good luck.

21 miss p 03.29.11 at 4:45 pm

I am having some pain on my back side right when you touch my ribcage it started on sat and its tuesday now i made an apt with my dr for tom. however i am still nervous the pain on a scale 1-10 is a 1 i know that sounds like nothing but i dont like any kind of pain. I have also been sick with a bad cold when this started. it doesnt hurt to walk, stand, sit, breath nothing. but i can still feel the unconfortablness…it also moves from my front to my back now it seems to be staying in the back.

22 Ed 03.30.11 at 8:11 am

Hi Miss P,
Pains like that are not uncommon with a bad cold. I would not worry about it, unless it lingers for more than a week.

23 amber 04.03.11 at 8:17 am

I have a pain in my lower right rib. It is not a major pain and i do not feel it all the time. However the pain will sometimes transfer from my lower rib through to my back. I do not know what is causing this pain but can anyone help me !

24 Ed 04.04.11 at 8:41 am

Hi Amber,
It may just be a muscle pull, that is affecting the front and back or it may be a rib out of place. If it’s the rib, you’ll need to see a chiropractor or osteopath.

25 Ricky 04.05.11 at 9:06 pm

Hi, i have been expiriancing pain in my lower left rib. it hurts when i cought, bend, or even hold my son to feed him (so bad i have to get some one to grab him from me while i assume the fetal position). I am only 22 years old. i feels like my rib is breakin and puncturing my insides. i also have spasums often and during these pains. i have been toughing it out for a couple months now. Honestly, my mother-in-law gave me a loracet (pain killer) that is perscribed to her, I STILL FEEL THE PAIN!!!!!!!!!!

26 Ricky 04.05.11 at 9:11 pm

by the way……….. just to throw this out there for others………… use of perscripion pain killers that are not perscribed to you is wrong!!!to do. DO NOT DO LIKE I DID!!!!!!! 😀

27 Ed 04.06.11 at 8:40 am

Hi Ricky,
My guess is that you’ve pulled a muscle while nursing or holding your baby in one arm while doing other things. Acupuncture would probably be the best thing. You might want to check with a chiropractor or osteopath as well, just in case you have put a rib out of place. Even if pain killers helped with the pain, they would not help with the problem.

28 sam 04.07.11 at 1:20 am

Help!!!! For the last month or so I’ve felt this sharp pain on my left lower rib cage… It started only when I laid down on my left side or on my stomach… But now it hurts even when I lay on my right side and lift my legs… I usually sleep in fetal position but the pain makes it hard!! It doesn’t hurt when I’m walking or working out; only when I lay down in a certain position to sleep!! The pain started after I got my cast on my left hand; could it be possible I hurt myself during my sleep?? I’m scared to what it could possibly be!!! Please help!!!

29 sam 04.07.11 at 1:26 am

I also forgot to mention; my mattress is a bit old and not very comfortable; could that be a factor as well?? Thank you(:

30 Ed 04.07.11 at 8:10 am

Hi Sam,
It’s quite possible that you hurt yourself with your cast. I would get checked out though. If the doctor does not think there’s anything wrong internally., acupuncture should help.

Good luck.

31 sam 04.07.11 at 1:20 pm

Thanks!!! I used the heating pad last night and the pain is starting to be less… Should I still go to the ER?? I don’t have any medical insurance but I’m scared of this being something serious! Thanks

32 Ed 04.07.11 at 1:41 pm

I always think it’s best to get things checked out when they’ve been around that long. If the heating pad seemed to help, you may give it a little longer and see if it improves. It is very hard to give advice in cases like this, since I have no idea what your problem is.

33 Lourdes 04.09.11 at 12:32 pm

I have this stomach pain in my mid section 2 hours after eating dinner. I thought the pain was caused by air because i shivered right after eating. I wasn’t feeling well that time so i took a bath and rested. After 2 hours the pain started to get worse. I cant lie down because it is painful and the more painful it gets every time i breath. I’m having constipation right now. The pain is still there. I’m worried because its getting worst. I cant lie down and every time i breath, there is this excruciating pain, from my neck , heart going down to the section of my tummy. Its very painful and I’m very much worried about this pain. I have to stand up or sit down in order not to feel the pain.

34 Ed 04.09.11 at 2:47 pm

I would go to emergency with a pain like that.

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