It is normal for your ribs to hurt after an ab workout or after running and other cardio exercises. The pain you feel is usually due to soreness. There are several reasons your ribs could get sored or cramped after a workout; poor exercise form and weaker muscles being the major ones. The rib pain should go away or at least improve significantly within a few days of rest and cold/hot compress. If it doesn’t or if it worsens, you may have injured your muscles. In that case, you should medical help.
If your ribs hurt after a workout, you must figure out the exact cause and resolve it. Frequent pain in the rib area can affect your daily activities (coughing, walking, breathing, etc.) and may even disrupt your sleep. In this article, I will explain some of the major reasons why your ribs may hurt after an ab workout and what you can do to deal with the pain or prevent it altogether.
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Strained intercostal and abdominal muscles are the number one reason why your ribs may hurt after an ab workout
Intercostal muscles are the muscles between your ribs. They are stiffer than most other muscles of your body because they have to hold the rib cage tightly in its position.
And then, we have abdominal muscles that start right where the intercostal muscles end (i.e. just under the chest) and run all the way down to the pelvic or groin area.
The intercostal and abdominal muscles are connected to each other. Together, they help keep our core strong and stable.
While doing ab workouts, these muscles expand and contract repeatedly. And, while doing so, they get fatigued, the same way other muscle groups get sore and strained. So, the pain you feel in your ribs after a workout should feel like the same pain you feel in your quads or biceps. As I said above, this is normal, especially if you have just started exercising or if you have suddenly increased the intensity of your workouts.
You might feel a sharp pain and even slight swelling during the first two days, which could be due to lactic acid buildup. If the pain is too much, you may apply a cramp relief ointment such as Theraworx Relief Fast-Acting Foam on the affected area twice a day or you may take an over-the-counter muscle spasm relief medicine such as Dee Cee Labs Formula 303 Maximum Strength All-Natural Relaxant Tablets.
💡 Quick Tip: If you keep suffering from lactic acid buildup, maybe you should start stretching and massaging your muscles regularly. You can either hire a trained professional or you may do it yourself using Theragun Prime – Electric Handheld Massage Gun. It comes with multiple heads and a few of them are suitable for massaging sensitive areas such as the ribs and abdominal muscles.
Theragun Prime – Electric Handheld Massage Gun
If your core muscles are not strong enough, your ribs may hurt after an ab workout
If you have suddenly started working on your core, be prepared for rib pain because your abdominal muscles are not strong enough (yet) to handle your new training routine. But, don’t worry. The muscles will gain their strength and your body will get used to it sooner than may realize.
Do let the pain demotivate you. Instead, come back the next day and try to do the same sets of exercises. If needed, take a day’s break or decrease the intensity of the workout or reduce the number of reps. Go slow and let your muscles grow stronger gradually. That's how you can train safely.
💡 Quick Tip: To build a stronger, muscular core, you should use specific core training equipment such as Stealth Abs + Plank Core Trainer. It is more like a game. You need to plank and play it, which would require tilting, twisting, and balancing your body in the plank position. It can help strengthen almost all of the major as well as minor muscle groups of your abdominal and chest area.
Stealth Abs + Plank Core Trainer
Your ribs may hurt after an ab workout if you are using a poor form
Bad training form is a common cause of sports-related injuries. It puts unnecessary strain on the muscles and may even cause major tears, which could take weeks to heal.
Whether you are doing planks or situps, make sure you start slow with just as many reps as you can comfortably do. Use a mirror or ask someone experienced to see if you are maintaining the correct posture. If you are new to workouts, you can hire a professional trainer or enroll in a gym to learn how to do the workouts correctly. If that's not possible, you may watch YouTube videos to learn the right techniques.
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Incorrect breathing may make your ribs hurt after a workout
Many of us often hold our breath while doing something challenging. It's a normal tendency but holding your breath can contribute to muscle pain and injuries because you end up tightening your body.
While doing situps, make sure you exhale as you lift your body up and inhale while lowering it back. Try to breathe as normally as possible. If you find it hard to breathe without putting in any conscious effort, you are probably going too hard. Slow down, take a break, or reduce the number of reps.
When should you be worried about your ribs hurting after a workout?
If you have recently started doing ab workouts or increased the intensity, it is normal for your ribs and abdominal muscles to hurt. You won’t feel the pain immediately. Most people experience soreness 24 to 48 hours after a new workout. This type of pain is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). DOMS is not a major cause of concern. Rather, experts believe it is a good thing because it indicates that the body is repairing the sore muscles, which will eventually strengthen them too.
DOMS pain usually goes away on its own within a few days. But, if you don’t see any improvement after 3-4 days, you must see a doctor to rule out other causes of pain such as a fracture.
It is safe to exercise when you are experiencing DOMS pain in the ribs. The pain won’t get worse with exercise. Rather, exercising will help alleviate it. But, if you feel severe pain or burning sensation at any point, stop exercising and see a doctor immediately to prevent any disabling injury.
What should you do if your ribs hurt after a workout?
Avoid any form of jerking motion such as running, brisk walking, cardio, etc. These exercises can worsen the pain. If the pain is not severe, continue with your ab workout routine as usual but reduce the intensity and reps. Listen to your body and exercise light. Avoid using weights as they can unnecessarily strain the muscles. If needed, take a day off or do a different set of exercises.
If it is DOMS, hot or cold compress is the fastest way you can reduce the soreness. Apply a cold compress for the first 24 hours and followed by a hot compress for as many days as needed. If needed, apply a sprain relief ointment or take OTC medicine.
Yoga and stretching can help alleviate DOMS pain. Child’s pose, seated side stretch, thread the needle, seated cat-cow, camel pose, and sphinx pose are some of the best rib cage stretching yoga poses that should give you instant relief. You should do these stretches frequently even if you are not experiencing rib pain. They will help you strengthen the intercostal muscles.
💡 Quick Tip: Although CUEHEAT Heating Pad is a cordless device meant for back pain relief, you can also use it for hot-compressing your ribs and abdominal muscles. Make sure you choose the low or medium heat setting because a high setting would be too much for these sensitive areas.
CUEHEAT Heating Pad
As I said above, rib pain after an ab workout is a type of sports-related injury. It requires the same treatment approach as knee pain or shoulder pain. Make sure you warm up your body before your workout and do adequate stretching at the end. Target different muscle groups on different days and take a day off every week. Listen to your body and do not ignore the warning signs of a severe injury.