How to sleep with intercostal muscle strain- A full Guide

Adequate sleep plays an integral part in the body’s recovery process when recovering from an injury, such as a strained intercostal muscle. While you sleep, your body takes up the part of repairing damaged tissues and cells. Developing strategies specifically about the best ways of how to sleep with intercostal muscle strain can speed up the recovery time and help you recover quicker.

In this article, we’ll be discussing the diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis of intercostal muscle strain; And in addition, how to manage the pain and ultimately how to sleep with intercostal muscle strain.

What is an intercostal muscle strain?

As the name implies, an intercostal muscle strain is a tear in the muscles tissues of the intercostal muscles. These types of strains are one of the primary causes of chest pain that are customarily associated with rib injuries; this is because these muscles are located between your rib, primarily around the rib cage.

how to sleep with intercostal muscle strain

In simplified English, Intercostal muscles are just a medical term used to describe the muscles between your ribs that run between the ribs to help your chest expand and contract during inhalation and exhalation.

There are internal and external intercostal muscles. When you inhale or breathe in, the external intercostal muscles contract to lift your ribs, the internal intercostal muscles contract when you exhale.

The pain intensity solely depends on the severity of impact or injury to these muscles; your sleep depends on this too.

Causes of intercostal muscle strains

Strain is a common soft tissue injury; it’s universal and can occur when a sudden, explosive movement of the muscles, for example, in sports. 

Here are some of the causes of intercostal muscle strain

  • Blunt force trauma to the chest region
  • Wear and tear from repetitive movements of one particular muscle tissue
  • With extensive and exaggerated (upward) stretching 

The intercostal muscles can withstand the stress of sports that require strenuous upper body movements although, wear from frequent, repetitive movements can strain them.

A typical example is hitting and throwing in baseball and softball, volleyball, basketball, badminton, and tennis ball. These sports involve an exaggerated twist, turn, pull, including pressure and force on the upper body and chest region.

Other common sports that cause strains of the intercostal muscles include weight lifting and rowing.

A study of baseball injuries found that more than 90% of documented muscle strains involved the intercostal muscles or the internal/external obliques of the abdomen. 

The bottom line is that the intercostal muscles may be strained from a one-time injury, such as a blunt force trauma to the rib and chest area or from wear that arises from repetitive muscle movements.

Some people may even experience an intercostal muscle strain from coughing!

Symptoms of a strained intercostal muscle

The symptom that one experiences when suffering from intercostal muscle strain has striking similarities to typical dislocated rib symptoms, and they may include the following

Localized pain: The pain may increase when you use the muscles located around your rib cage. You may experience intense pain when you take a deep breath, cough, or sneeze. Pain is a common symptom whenever there’s a movement involving any of the affected intercostal muscles.

Pressure pain: The affected area is usually sensitive to touch. 

Fun fact: Sensitivity to touch is also medically known as tactile allodyniaand it happens when the body sends its mechanosensitive proteins in response to touch around an injured area.

Swelling: Swelling is not common; however, it may appear several hours after an intercostal muscle strain takes place.

Muscle spasms: Some injuries cause involuntary muscle contractions or spasms.

Diagnosis of a strained intercostal muscle

If you experience pain in your ribs, getting a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional is important. Healthcare providers usually diagnose an intercostal muscle strain by first asking questions about how the injury occurred and whether you have had a similar injury in the past.

Rib muscle strains may be misdiagnosed as subluxated or dislocated ribs if adequate information isn’t provided at the beginning.

They also perform a physical examination, which includes checking pressure and pain in the affected area. Often, questions and physical examinations are enough to make a complete diagnosis. However, in some cases, the healthcare giver may order x-rays photographs or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests for a more accurate diagnosis and check for other secondary injuries, such as fractures, dislocation, or internal bleeding.

Muscle strains are classified into three categories.

Grade I (mild): muscle fibers are stretched, and there may be some tearing in muscle tissue in most cases.

Grade II (moderate): A large number of muscle fibers are torn.

Grade III (severe): all muscle fibers are torn.

Grade II and III strains naturally do require more time and medical interference to heal.

Treatment of intercostal muscle strains

The treatment for intercostal muscle strain, just as the symptoms, is identical to the treatment of dislocated ribs.

After addressing the potentially serious injury, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments.


 It is imperative to avoid a repetition of the exercise that caused the strain to occur. For athletes, this may require a mandatory time away from practice and competition or limiting movements to avoid re-injury depending on the level of injury. Sleep more, have slow-paced but constant activities.

Breathing meditation and stretching exercises

Your doctor, in some cases, may recommend stretching and breathing exercises to assist with recovery and to ensure that the pain of your injury does not restrict your ability to breathe correctly.

Studies have also shown that deep breathing may help reduce pain and stress, so these exercises may also be helpful and used as part of a bedtime routine. 

Deep breathing will reduce the patient’s susceptibility to secondary infections of the lungs, such as pneumonia.

If pain increases, proceed with caution and consult your healthcare provider.

Your doctor can physically assist you to gradually strengthen your muscles and regain range of motion by carrying out specific exercises that promote muscle healing.

It’s important not to overeat when you have experienced intercostal muscle strain, especially before sleeping at night. Eating more protein is linked to a faster recovery rate too.


For a few days after the injury, you can reduce swelling by wrapping an ice pack in a towel every 15 to 20 minutes throughout the day, most especially before you sleep.

Heat therapy

 You can switch from an ice pack to a heating pad to treat the strain after 2-3 days of the injury. Heating the injured muscle may help relieve pain and speed up the recovery process.

Alternating between hot and cold therapies would alleviate the pain even more.

Pain medications

 Some medications can reduce the pain you feel from a strain. Discuss with your doctor which medications are appropriate, as some may increase bleeding and heart rate. Pain medications will also assist the individual in having better rest and sleep, which will, in return, accelerate the healing process.


If the muscle is completely torn, you may need surgery.

The average strained intercostal muscle takes about four to five weeks to heal, almost to the original state. However, the healing time may be shorter or longer depending on the severity of the strain and the individual’s general body state.

How to sleep with intercostal muscle strain

Falling or staying asleep through pain can be a challenge. Studies showed that people who experienced severe pain slept less at night, had poorer sleep quality, and had more control over their sleep, hence why it’s crucial to learn how to sleep with intercostal muscle strain.

Controlling pain is a critical step in improving sleep and recovering from strained intercostal muscles. You can use several strategies to relieve symptoms and get the whole night’s rest you need.

  1. Talk to your doctor

You need to keep your doctor informed about daily improvement or changes regarding your pain level and sleep difficulties so they can determine the right treatment plan for you. Be sure to disclose to your doctor the treatments you have tried or are using, such as heat therapy and supplementary over-the-counter pain medications.

Your doctor may prescribe some more medications for you or simply advise further on best practices on how to sleep with intercostal muscle strain.

In more severe cases where the muscle continues to re-injure, your healthcare provider may inject corticosteroids or lidocaine into the area. These injections can relieve pain.

2. Meditation

According to some studies, mindfulness meditation is associated with reduced pain and promotes physical and mental relaxation. While there are many different meditation techniques, they typically include the following components.

  • Sitting in a comfortable position
  • Meditating in a quiet space
  • Focusing on the breath, an object, or a selected word
  • Keeping an open mind or letting distractions come and go without judgment
  • Keep your torso neutral and minimize external pressure

If you have difficulty sleeping due to strained intercostal or rib muscles, consider changing your sleep position. The ideal sleep position should keep your spine correctly aligned and your torso neutral to prevent the injury’s unnecessary twisting or added weight. If you are lying on your side, you may feel more comfortable sleeping on the not injured side. You should find a comfortable mattress and a pillow that adequately supports your head, neck, and upper body.

Especially during the onset of the injury days, you may find it helpful to keep your upper body elevated. Try using a pillow or adjustable base (if available) to support yourself.

3. Develop good sleep hygiene habits

Developing healthy habits will help set the stage for better sleep during your recovery. Elements of good sleep hygiene include.

4. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule

It’s known that going to bed and getting up simultaneously on weekdays and weekends helps promote good sleep.

Creating a bedtime routine

How to sleep with intercostal muscle strain? Activities such as meditation, reading, or taking a hot bath can help you relax before bedtime.

Exercise during the day

More than 25 Studies in recent years have shown that adequate exercise positively impacts sleep. 

While you cannot do regular exercise due to some constraints, gentle activities like walking or yoga can keep your body moving.

Create a comfortable sleep environment

The ideal bedroom is dark, calm, and quiet. If necessary, use sleep accessories such as eye masks or earplugs to make the environment more conducive to sleep. You can also use blackout curtains to prevent light from entering the room or a white noise machine to eliminate background noise.

Avoid electronics at bedtime

cell phones, computers, TVs, and gaming devices all emit bright light, making falling asleep even more difficult.

Limit bed use to sex and sleep

How to sleep with intercostal muscle strain? Simply, sleep.

To help your brain make the connection between bed and sleep, avoid lying in bed for more than 30 minutes if you can’t fall asleep. Instead, go to another room for a relaxing activity, carry out a small task and return to bed when you feel sleepy.

If you still have any trouble falling or staying asleep, consult your healthcare provider. They can help determine if there is an underlying sleep disorder that negatively impacts your ability to sleep throughout the night.

FAQs about intercostal muscle strain

Can you get intercostal muscle strain from sleeping?

Yes, it’s possible to strain your intercostal muscle while sleeping. However, the chances are pretty low unless you are:

  • An active sleeper kicking, twisting and playing explosive sports while sleeping.
  • Sleeping on a bad mattress.
  • Sleeping in a “Wrong” position.

There is a higher chance that you may have strained your muscle the day before you went to bed. It’ll be good to back-track your activities the previous day and focus on ones where you pulled, twisted, or exerted enough pressure in your chest area.

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