Pain

Understanding Intercostal Neuralgia

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What is intercostal neuralgia?

Intercostal neuralgia is a type of neuropathic (nerve) pain. It involves the nerves that arise from the spinal cord and lie beneath the ribs. These nerves are connected to the muscles of the rib cage, skin and chest cavity.

What are the signs and symptoms of intercostal neuralgia?

The main symptom of intercostal neuralgia is pain around the ribs, in the upper chest or in the upper back. The pain may be burning, spasmodic, shooting or sharp. It may be caused or worsened by certain activities, such as taking a deep breath, laughing, coughing or sneezing. Some people experience referred pain that originates from the intercostal nerves but is felt in the shoulder blades or pelvis.

Individuals may experience pressure, tingling or numbness around the ribs or in the upper chest or back. In more severe cases of intercostal neuralgia, symptoms may include, but are not limited to, muscle twitching, loss of appetite, paralysis or muscle atrophy.

Who is at risk for developing intercostal neuralgia?

Anyone who has been diagnosed with a viral infection, such as shingles, is at greater risk for developing intercostal neuralgia. Individuals who have experienced trauma to the chest or abdomen, which results in compression of the nerves, are also at greater risk. People who have had surgery in which the chest is opened, such as a thoracotomy, may develop intercostal neuralgia.

In some cases, intercostal neuralgia is idiopathic, meaning it does not have an identifiable cause.

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