How To Sleep With Intercostal Muscle Strain: Sleeping Positions & Six Steps You Can Take

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Last Updated on October 9, 2022 by theworldofsleepstaff

An intercostal muscle strain is an injury to the muscle that lays between the ribs. It can cause pain throughout the rib area, including the front and back, and can make movements involving the torso, shoulders and even the arms very painful. That makes sleeping potentially very difficult. However getting enough rest is absolutely crucial to the healing process, which is why we show you how to sleep with an intercostal muscle strain right here.

An intercostal muscle strain is treated the same as any other muscle strain and requires cold, heat, pain killers, and rest to heal. While it will be painful to move the injured muscles, after the initial rest period it will be necessary to continue to ease the injured muscle back into regular use, maintain deep breathing when possible, and slowly work up to regular movements again.

Getting adequate sleep is key throughout. We will show you the best way to prepare for sleep when you have this strain, as well as share with you the best sleeping positions for an intercostal muscle strain in this article.

Disclaimer: Although we share tips here, as always, you must consult your doctor and ask their opinion about what is right for you, as every individual case differs.

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But First: What are the Symptoms and Causes

Many symptoms can occur after the intercostal muscle has been strained, and some will be similar to any other muscle strain in the body. This strain will often cause discomfort when you take a deep breath, and can make it difficult to breathe due to the pain in your ribs. The chest and rib area may feel tight and restricted as well, and there may be visible signs of swelling.

Having a cough or sneezing with an intercostal muscle strain can also cause pain in your chest as the muscles are forced to move quickly despite the swelling. Due to the location, there may also be pain and discomfort in your back, and this will flare up during twisting or bending movements.

This strain can be caused in many ways. Repetitive movements such as swinging your arms while walking, or reaching for something in a way that twists your body or stretches the muscles too much can cause an intercostal muscle strain. As most people move while they are sleeping, it is even possible to strain an intercostal muscle during sleep while tossing and turning.

A minor strain may heal completely within a month. However a more severe strain can take up to three or four months, and others may even require surgical intervention.

how to sleep with an intercostal muscle strain: The Six steps For Sleep

Before sleeping it is necessary to ensure that you have prepared both your body and mind, as well as make sure you have a comfortable place to sleep.

Before we share with you the sleeping positions you can use, and the ones you need to avoid, here are six steps you should take to ensure adequate sleep with an intercostal muscle strain.

1. Ensure You Have Enough Pillows For Reclining

It will be necessary to have pillows or cushions that can keep your body propped up at a slight angle (more on that later in our section on sleeping positions). That’s important as it will help you avoid tossing and turning during the night, and therefore making the strain worse.

By sleeping at an angle in a reclined position, rather than sleeping flat, your muscles will remain in their natural resting position and won’t be stretched or compacted in any way.

Recommended: 30 Tips On How To Get Better Sleep Naturally

2. Use Meditation

Using meditation to calm your mind before bed may decrease pain in the area, and will help to slow your thoughts and allow for a better quality sleep. This can be any meditative activity including guided meditations, sound meditation or even focusing on a picture or a colour within a picture.

Meditation slows thoughts and releases anxiety and fear, while also relaxing muscles throughout the body. As muscles relax and tension is released, both pain and discomfort will decrease, preparing your body and mind for a better sleep

3. Utilize Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises before bed can help relax your body and ease the mind to rest. They will also improve lung capacity and will help to stretch the injured muscles gently, lowering any pain and discomfort felt in the ribs, torso, and back.

Once asleep, breathing becomes slow and deep. So by breathing slowly and taking deep breaths while preparing for sleep your body will adjust to the breathing patterns and you will fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply.

4. Have Enough Food and Drink Before Bed

Ensuring you have had enough food and water is important as it will mean you should avoid waking up. That allows you to sleep through the night and can be an effective way to improve the amount of sleep that you get. It is also easier to fall asleep if you are not hungry or thirsty, allowing you to fall asleep faster.

5. Use a Compression Belt

Some may find that a compression belt or rib support will offer additional support for the injured muscles. Subsequently the use of one may reduce pain in the area while ensuring the ribs are well supported for sleep.

sleep with an intercostal muscle strain

6. Follow a Regular Sleep Routine

As the body does most of its healing during sleep, it is necessary to get as much sleep as you can. The best way to do that is to follow a regular routine for getting ready for bed. So go to bed at the same time as you usually do, and try to maintain the same waking time as well. This routine will become familiar to your body and you will sleep best on that schedule.

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How to sleep with an intercostal muscle strain: The Best Sleeping Positions

Sleeping in a reclined position eases the pain for the injured muscles, so creating a reclined position is crucial when sleeping with an intercostal muscle strain.

For some this is easiest to do in a reclining chair rather than a bed. If you do have a recliner, then for the first few days or even a week after the injury has occurred, it may be most comfortable to sleep in that chair. Make sure you use just a light blanket so there will be no extra pressure on your ribs. The restrictions of being in a chair will also limit movements like twisting or tossing and turning, which will remove the risk of worsening the injury during sleep. With several different reclining positions, you can select the position that is the most comfortable for you to ensure the best night rest possible.

A reclining or adjustable bed, if you have one, is ideal for sleeping with a muscle injury too, and can be adjusted to an angle that is most comfortable. If an adjustable bed is not available, pillows may be used to support your torso and head in a comfortable position, keeping your body at an angle and therefore reclined. Wedge cushions also offer a supportive way to find the correct reclining angle for muscles to rest and relax during sleep.

Additional supports under your knees can also be beneficial for back sleeping whether you’re in a recliner, an adjustable bed, or on a traditional bed. This will ease the strain and discomfort on the lower back.

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It is possible to sleep on your side or stomach with an intercostal injury, as well as on your back. For side sleeping, sleep with the injured side up. This will keep your bodyweight from adding to the pain in your ribs, and will allow for them to be stretched in a comfortable position.

It may still be most comfortable to side sleep at an incline, so pillows can be used to prop up your torso and head. Or it may be more comfortable to sleep with your stomach supported and your head lower to obtain a slight stretch in those muscles. Experiment to see which way works best for you. Whatever you do, when side sleeping make sure there is a pillow placed between your knees to maintain the correct alignment of your spine. That reduces the pressure and adjustment of your muscles around the ribs and should ease discomfort.

Stomach sleepers can still get a good sleep with an intercostal muscle strain, though it will require the use of additional pillows and supports. A pillow beneath your stomach can help maintain alignment of your spine, and a softer pillow under your chest and torso may reduce discomfort of bodyweight pressing your ribs into the mattress. Supporting pillows under your shoulders and head can also help ease pain as well as support spinal alignment. That’s important as if the spine is correctly aligned the muscles can be in their natural resting position and there should be less pain.

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Pain Management

If you feel you may have a strained intercostal muscle a doctor can diagnose it from the description of your symptoms and a physical exam. They may also request an x-ray to ensure that the injury is as expected. Once you have been diagnosed you can begin to treat the injury. However there are things that can be done to help with pain management both before diagnosis and afterwards.

Ice or a cool cloth can assist in reducing inflammation, which in turn reduces pain. Alternatively, warmth such as a hot water bottle or heating pad can also help to relax the muscles and ease pain for short periods of time as well.

A pain killer, either over the counter or prescription, can help to reduce pain, whilst one which has anti-inflammatory properties can both reduce pain as well as lower swelling and inflammation. As sleep is an important time for your body to heal, it is important to manage pain so a good quality sleep can be obtained.

Other ways to help reduce pain include wearing loose fitting clothes that allow easy movement. You should also find ways to both sit and sleep where there is no additional discomfort on strain on the injured muscles. This may involve a back rest or lumbar cushion for sitting, and using a sleeping position that keeps your spine aligned correctly and reduces pressure on your ribs and the muscles around them. Supporting the entire torso and keeping it straight is key to a comfortable position both sitting as well as sleeping.

To reduce pain, continue to focus on slow, deep breaths. Those will slowly engage your muscles and allow your ribs to expand gently. This will encourage your muscles to relax during breathing, and will help to ease any discomfort. Stretching gently can ease pain too, help the muscles heal and strengthen them as well. This should be done slowly, and fast movements should be avoided, along with no twisting for the first few days.

For stretching, begin by raising your arms slowly which will gently stretch the sides. You can then move your raised arms forward and back. But leave any twisting movements for some time.

How to sleep with an intercostal muscle strain: Our Final Thoughts

Once diagnosed with an intercostal muscle strain it is important to follow your treatment to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. You must also limit your range of motion.

By using ice to ease the immediate pain and swelling, heat or warmth to ease the tension in the muscles, taking pain killers as required, and finding comfortable positions for sitting and sleeping you can speed the healing process and keep the pain limited.

As the pain becomes manageable you can practice breathing exercises and gentle stretches. These can be used to stretch and relax the muscles and improve both breathing ability and range of motion. While it will take a month or more to heal completely, improvement can be seen after a few days as range of motion improves. It is also necessary to continue moving the body to maintain circulation that will improve healing.

The key to a successful recovery and the fastest healing possible is to manage pain and discomfort, allow movement to continue, to get enough quality sleep for your body to heal, and to continue deep breathing and gentle stretches. Each of these will provide your body with what it needs to heal the cells and muscles.