Stabbing Pains When You Breathe: Causes And solutions

Taking a deep breath can trigger sharp pains in the rib, chest and back pain for a number of reasons. Our expertise at Sundial is in tracking down the causes of pain and working to find the right treatment for you. Read on to find out what might bring on chest and rib pain and what can be done to help you.

Your lungs take up a large area inside your chest and are connected to the muscles and nerves of your thoracic spine. Breathing deeply expands the entire rib cage and involves complex movements in the thorax (chest) as air enters the lungs and is then forced out by muscles in the chest wall and diaphragm.

As this movement happens continuously, day and night, it’s not surprising that the muscles and connective tissue are prone to strain and inflammation. Pain caused by muscular strains or stiffness in the back will of course be intensified by this lung expansion and contraction, and the costal cartilage (connecting your sternum to your ribs) itself can become painful. So what’s happening in your rib cage and thorax when you breathe in and get that stabbing pain? Here are some of the common causes we see at our Brighton clinics and the kind of treatment we’d do to make things better.


Costochondritis is an inflammation of the connective cartilaginous tissue at the junctions of the sternum (breast bone) and ribs. The pain feels worse when you press down where the ribs join the breast bone and it eases when you keep still or take shallow breaths. It’s not clear what causes this tenderness, though it may be related to unusually intense exercise e.g. arm activities. Chiropractors can help this kind of pain by providing relief release to the muscle around the joints as well as offering reassurance and teaching simple relaxation techniques to alleviate those muscular spasms.

Locked rib joint

A ‘locked rib’ occurs when a rib joint stiffens and causes pain and discomfort when it moves, particularly when breathing. It can feel like a stabbing through the chest to the back. It will also be noticeable when coughing, sneezing or deep breathing (so it’s often painful after exercise). For simple acute cases, chiropractors have specific techniques to sort out a ‘locked rib’ and, in the case of most patients, can provide immediate pain relief.

Diaphragm spasm

Diaphragm spasm happens when the diaphragm muscle strains and gets tight. This can happen with lots of shallow breathing when you get stressed. It causes pain in the lower ribs on one side.


Fractures can occur to ribs due to trauma. Even minor trauma like a hard sneeze or leaning over the side of a bath can cause a fracture especially if you have osteoporosis.
Our chiropractors and physiotherapists at our two Brighton clinics will be able to diagnose the issue and if appropriate treat related spinal stiffness and apply gentle soft tissue work to sore muscles.

Chiropractic and physio treatment for stabbing pains when you breath

Chiropractic and physio treatment starts with a thorough history-taking and examination to discover the likely cause of the pain. Muscular strains don’t show up on MRI or ultrasound scans so your practitioner will run through a physical examination and neurological tests to find out where the pain is coming from. Read more about chest and rib pain in our blog.

At Sundial you can expect clear communication, appropriate treatment and a home exercise programme designed to sort out your problem and prevent it recurring. We encourage you to visit your doctor if you’ve been suffering from shortness of breath and chest pains as this may indicate other conditions such as lung infections or underlying heart issues.

Book in for a consultation here – we’d love to help you feel better.