The problem of having pain under the right rib cage can be very unpleasant. There are different things that can cause the pain. While it could just be a simple trauma to your right ribs, there could also be other more serious things causing the pain. You see, the rib cage takes up a large area of your body that protects many organs. If you are feeling pain below the right rib cage or having a right rib pain that moves around, it can be due to issues in the organs that the rib is protecting. Even some of the organs that are close to the rib cage, but not protected by the rib, can also cause pain.
The Rib Cage
If you look at the image below, you can see that the rib cage protects a few organs. You can also see which organs that are close to the right rib cage area.
Some of the above organs can actually cause a minor discomfort or even a constant pain if they are not in good health. We will take a closer look into how the organs can cause pain, but also cover other possibilities that may cause discomfort in the right rib area.
Causes of pain under the right rib cage
Sometimes there are infections and abnormalities that can appear in different organs. The affected organs will complain by manifesting different unpleasant symptoms. Pain is one popular symptom, which can be felt as a dull, sharp, or a stabbing pain. Even if you just feel a pressure under the right rib, or a constant pain, it is a symptom that there is something wrong going on.
Let’s take a closer look into the organs that can cause problems.
Some parts of the colon lie just below the right rib cage. The transverse colon, the hepatic flexure, and the ascending colon are the ones that can be affected. Diseases related to those parts can cause pain under the right rib cage, and they include:
- Right Colonic Diverticulitis – This is a condition caused by an inflammation of the pouches formed in the wall of the colon called diverticula. You may experience a sharp pain under the right rib cage. This condition seem to appear more in Asian countries.
- Gases – Trapped wind can cause pain under the right rib cage when breathing sometimes. The pain is due to the accumulation of gas causing the colon to swell. The pain can occur in the hepatic flexure, which is the part where the colon bends.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome – this chronic condition affects your bowel movement. Bloating, cramping pain, and abdominal pain are common symptoms. The discomfort levels can vary.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease – This means that there is an ongoing inflammation of the digestive tract. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease cause chronic inflammation of the colon wall. This can result in dull aching pain in the right side of the rib cage.
The gallbladder stores bile needed for digestion of food. It is positioned under your liver and close to the end of the ribs. It is not uncommon that you can feel a dull pain under the right rib cage due to the following conditions:
- Cholelithiasis – this is when stones build up in the gallbladder. Gallstones occur due to the sediments of bile formed in the gallbladder. You will feel pain under the right rib cage when the stones obstruct the bile duct. Pain is also felt in the back.
- Cholangitis – this is a serious infection of the bile duct, which can be caused due to the gallstones blocking the passage of the bile. Expect feeling a sharp pain.
- Gallbladder cancer – this is the spread of a malignant tumor. It can cause mild to moderate pain in the upper right abdomen area in the late stages of the disease.
Upper Gastrointestinal Tract
Parts of the upper gastrointestinal tract include the food pipe, stomach, and duodenum. Disturbance in those organs can also cause pain under the right rib cage.
- Acid Reflux – This condition is also known as Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is when the stomach content runs back up to the food pipe (esophagus). It can cause a burning sensation in the throat, nausea, vomiting breast discomfort, and also cause a sharp or tender pain along the right rib cage.
- Ulcers – Stomach and duodenal ulcers are sores in the lining of the organs. The duodenum is a part of the small intestine directly connecting to the stomach. That part is the one that actually is located closer under your right rib. The ulcers can sometimes cause severe pain under the right rib cage.
The right kidney is situated behind the liver. Diseases affecting the right kidney can cause pain in the flank and also below the rib cage. The cause of pain under the right rib cage and back due to the disorders affecting the kidneys include:
- Kidney Stones – pain under the right rib cage can actually occur due to the build up of kidney stones that obstruct the flow of urine. Small stones can pass through the ureters causing a flank pain that may radiate from the back to the front of your right rib cage.
- Kidney Infection – bacteria can cause infection in the right kidney resulting in sharp burning pain under the right rib cage. Other common symptoms would be fever, flank pain, and pain while passing urine.
- Polycystic Kidney Disease – caused due to presence of cysts in the kidney. It is a genetically-linked disease, and as the cyst grows it can cause a sharp or dull pain under the right rib cage.
The liver, being the largest organ in the abdominal cavity, occupies a large area under the right rib cage. Pain associated with the liver include:
- Trauma – a blunt trauma to the abdominal area can cause a stabbing pain under the rib cage. In rare cases, an injury can also occur after a laparoscopic liver surgery.
- Alcoholic Liver Disease – Damages to the liver due to the abuse of alcohol can lead to pain in the liver. Alcoholic hepatitis can cause constant pain under the right rib cage, especially during the initial stages of the disease.
- Viral Hepatitis – this caused by an infection of the liver and can cause discomfort under the right rib cage together with nausea, vomiting, loose motions and loss of appetite.
- Hepatic Steatosis – this condition happens due to the accumulation of fat in the liver, which is also called fatty liver disease. It is often linked with obesity, high levels of cholesterol, and hypertension. This condition can cause an aching pain below the rib cage.
- Pyogenic Liver Abscess – a rare acute condition that occurs due to the accumulation of pus. It develops due to an infection in the liver and causes pain along the lower right rib cage.
- Liver Cancer – when cancer grows in the liver during the later stages of the disease, you can experience pain.
- Hepatitc Cysts – are sacs filled with fluid, and when the cyst becomes large they can cause pain on the lower part of the rib cage.
- Cholestasis – This is a disturbance that happens when the flow of the bile from the liver slows down. It could be due to several reasons, including during pregnancy when the pregnancy hormones are very high.
Pain under the right rib cage may occur due to the conditions affecting the right lungs, and the plural membrane covering the lung. There are many different pulmonary problems that can actually cause pain, to name a few:
- Pleuritis – This is when the lining of the lungs become inflamed. You will likely feel a stabbing pain when you cough or when you breath deeply.
- Lung Abscess – This is when a pocket of puss is created in the lungs do to an infection of the tissues. This can occur due to pneumonia, abnormalities of the lungs, or other infections.
- Shingles – This is a type of herpes that develops into rash of blisters along the ribs. You will likely feel itching and pain on the right side of the rib cage even before the rash appears.
The pancreas is a gland behind the stomach close to the duodenum. Like any other organ, it can also get affected by different unwanted health conditions. This can in turn be the cause of pain under the right rib cage.
- Pancreatitis – This is a condition when digestive enzymes start tearing apart the pancreas. Nausea, vomiting and pain in the abdomen just under right rib cage are symptoms to look for.
- Pancreatic Cancer – This type of cancer is hard to catch in the early stages because the pancreas is hidden behind organs. Therefore, it is hard to discover tumors during a regular routine exam. It is said that 1 in 4 pancreatic cancers are caused by smoking.
Other things causing pain under the right rib cage
Pain during cardio
Some people may feel sharp pain under the right rib cage when running or doing other cardio exercises. The exercise-related pain is described as a stabbing and cramping pain felt under the rib cage. The pain usually subsides after taking rest. The actual cause to this phenomena is still unclear according to studies.
Painful rib syndrome
This is an uncommon inflammatory disorder where the upper ribs are affected. The pain is felt where the ribs connect to the breastbone (sternum). If you also feel pain in the sternum, there could be other underlying causes.
This is when internal organs and tissues stick together due to scar tissue. Organs are normally slippery and they will not stick, but if you have undergone a pelvic or abdominal surgery, it may have caused an injury to your organs. Pain can come months or years after surgery.
Fractures and Muscles
A bruised or fractured rib will certainly cause an intense pain on any part of your rib cage. Also, intense exercises can lead to muscle strains causing pain in the right rib cage area.
A woman’s body needs to cope with at lot of things during pregnancy. Many things can cause pain under the right rib cage during pregnancy. Pain can come from the gallbladder, growing uterus, baby kicks, rib cage spreading, implantation, and a few other things.
Treatment and Diagnosis
Diagnosis of the underlying cause of having pain in the right rib cage area can help in initiating an appropriate treatment for the condition, which will help to get rid of the symptom. The cause can be detected with the help of evaluation of the symptoms including the type of pain, its nature, and the history of alcoholism or injury, physical examination, and diagnostic tools like X-ray, CT scan, and ultrasonography.
If you suspect that you have more than a workout pain, you may want to consult your doctor and set up an appointment quickly. It is important to address the problem quickly, and not wait until the the symptoms escalate.