If you’ve been diagnosed with intercostal muscle strain, you may struggle to get the right amount of sleep.
The pain from this injury can leave you lying awake at night instead of drifting off into a peaceful slumber. But sleep is a crucial part of the recovery process, as your body needs a healthy amount of shut-eye to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.
So, in this post, we’ll look at how to get a good night’s sleep, even with intercostal muscle strain. You can wake up feeling refreshed and kick-start your healing journey.
What is Intercostal Muscle Strain?
The intercostal muscles are located between your ribs. When one or more of these muscles is stretched, pulled, or torn, it can lead to intercostal muscle strain. This painful condition can make even the slightest movement, like breathing, difficult.
Intercostal muscle strain is more common than you might think. It’s thought to cause up to almost 50% of all musculoskeletal chest pain.
The intercostal muscles can become damaged or strained in various ways. Still, it’s usually down to twisting in a sharp motion either suddenly or gradually over time.
Activities that increase the risk of intercostal muscle strain include:
- Sports such as rowing, golf, tennis, weightlifting, and rigorous contact sports
- Lifting heavy objects while twisting your upper body
- Prolonged reaching above your head (for example, while plastering or painting a wall)
Intercostal muscles can also be injured by falls and other physical accidents, as well as during a prolonged period of vigorous coughing or sneezing.
What Are The Symptoms of Intercostal Muscle Strain?
If you’ve injured your intercostal muscles, you will likely feel pain or discomfort in your ribcage. The pain may be localized and worsen when you take a deep breath or cough.
You may also notice some swelling and tenderness in the affected area. In rarer cases, you may even experience muscular spasms.
If you suspect intercostal muscle strain, you must visit your healthcare provider, who can confirm a diagnosis and suggest the appropriate treatment plan.
Treatment For Intercostal Muscle Strain
If you’re diagnosed with intercostal muscle strain, your doctor may recommend one or more treatments.
1. Hot And Cold Therapy
Applying an ice pack to the affected area can help reduce swelling. This is particularly important in the first few days following an injury.
Once the swelling has subsided, your doctor may recommend heat therapy, such as heat packs or sauna sessions. Heating the affected area can help to reduce pain, relax damaged muscles, and speed up the healing process.
2. Pain Relief Medication
If the pain of intercostal muscle strain is interfering with your daily life and stopping you from sleeping at night, your doctor may prescribe pain relief medications as a temporary measure while your body recovers.
If the pain is less severe but still uncomfortable, they may suggest over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen, which reduces inflammation.
Particularly severe cases of intercostal muscle strain may require surgery, usually when the muscles are completely torn away from the rib cage.
Whether your intercostal muscle injury is mild or severe, one of the most important steps you can take to help your body recover is to rest.
This means avoiding twisting, bending, and lifting, and of course, getting plenty of quality sleep.
Getting the recommended 7-9 hours of shut-eye each night can significantly speed up the healing process and help your injured muscles to repair themselves quickly.
7 Tips For a Peaceful Sleep With Intercostal Muscle Strain
Pain is one of the leading causes of insomnia. So, if you’re suffering from pain due to intercostal muscle strain, you’ll likely struggle to get a good night’s sleep.
Thankfully, there are several strategies you can use to manage your pain and increase the quality and duration of your sleep.
1. Try Gentle Breathing Techniques
Even the simple act of breathing can become difficult with an intercostal muscle strain. Depending on the severity of your injury, you may feel a sharp or heavy sensation in your chest region as your ribcage rises and falls.
Since not breathing isn’t an option, try taking steady, deep breaths, focusing on a long, slow, gentle inhalation through the nose and out through the mouth.
Research shows that deep breathing can reduce pain and increase feelings of relaxation, both conducive to a good night’s sleep.
In recent years, scientists have discovered that mindfulness meditation can help to relieve pain and promote feelings of physical and mental relaxation and well-being. In turn, mindfulness meditation can help you fall asleep faster and even stay asleep longer.
There are plenty of apps out there that provide free guided meditations, as well as YouTube videos, many of which are specifically geared toward pain relief.
3. Change Your Sleeping Position
Intercostal muscle strain can cause additional pain if you sleep in the wrong position.
Immediately after injury, you might find sleeping with an elevated torso and upper body more comfortable than lying down flat. Try using extra pillows to prop yourself up in bed, or consider sleeping in a comfortable reclining chair for the first few days if you have one.
Once you can sleep lying down, try to avoid lying on your side. If that’s not an option, be sure to sleep on your uninjured side so that you don’t put unnecessary pressure on your torn and damaged muscles.
The ideal sleep position is on your back, with your spine neutral and aligned rather than twisted to one side. If you’re prone to moving around in your sleep, there are specialist pillows, such as a head cradle pillow, designed to keep you on your back and in the same position throughout the night.
Avoid sleeping on your stomach at all costs, as this will place extra pressure on your intercostal muscles and may even lead to re-injury.
4. Try a Chest Brace
Chest braces work by immobilizing your intercostal muscles and limiting the range of movement in your upper body. Wearing one while you sleep can help to keep you still and in the correct position. This will reduce inflammation and pain and speed up the healing process.
Before trying a chest brace, consult your doctor to ensure you choose the correct type for your injury.
5. Take a Nap
If your nighttime sleep is suffering, taking a nap during the day can help to top up on well-needed rest and give your body the boost it needs for your muscles to heal.
However, be careful not to oversleep during nap time, as this can affect your sleep schedule. To avoid this, limit naps to no later than the early afternoon.
6. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene
If you’ve injured your intercostal muscles, chances are, your sleep will temporarily take a hit. But alongside the tips above, you can give yourself a head start to recovery by implementing healthy sleep hygiene practices.
Here are some of the most important sleep hygiene tips to follow:
Create a Nighttime Routine
A consistent bedtime routine helps your mind and body prepare for sleep. Relaxing activities like taking a warm bath, inhaling essential oils, reading a book, and meditating can all form part of a healthy nighttime routine.
Take Gentle Exercise During The Day
If you’ve been diagnosed with intercostal muscle strain, your doctor will likely prescribe plenty of rest. And while you should avoid strenuous exercise and sports until you’re fully healed, gentle movements and activities like walking and stretching can help to expel energy and lead to a better night’s sleep.
Be sure to talk with your doctor to see what kind of movement is safe during your recovery.
Avoid Screens in The Evening
Devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops are the biggest driver of insomnia. Blue light emitted from these screens disrupts your circadian rhythm and prevents the release of melatonin, which means your brain and body can’t wind down for sleep.
So, try to limit the use of electronic devices in the evening and stop using them entirely for at least two hours before you go to bed.
7. Talk to Your Doctor
If the pain from intercostal muscle strain is still causing you to lose sleep after trying the tips above, talk to your doctor. They may adjust your current treatment plan or suggest other strategies that can help.
They can also prescribe pain relief medication or, in more serious cases of intercostal muscle strain, corticosteroids or lidocaine injections which can provide significant relief.
Intercostal muscle strain is a painful condition that can take a huge toll on your sleep. But thankfully, there are several ways to combat the difficulties of sleeping with this type of injury.
Following the tips above and prioritizing a good night’s sleep, you’re setting yourself up for healing success.