Can cycling cause rib pain?

The pain in the rib area is not always an indication of a damaged rib. This is often an indication of a muscle cramp that is called exercise-related transient abdominal pain or commonly known as stitches.

Always bear in mind that rib pain is a usual occurrence among cyclists, runners, horseback riders and swimmers. In case the area is bruised, tender or hurts when the individual engages in an activity with a twisting movement, it can indicate a cracked or broken rib. A doctor should be consulted if the individual experiences these symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The rib pain that is triggered by stitches typically manifests right under the rib cage, but can also occur on the left side of the body. The degree of pain tends to vary depending on the severity of the muscle cramp.

In case it is a severe one, it can be felt as a piercing, severe stabbing pain. As for moderate cases, it is similar to a cramping, pulling or aching sensation.

Potential causes

The mechanism that triggers the development of stitches is still uncertain but it is also referred to as cramping of the diaphragm which is a strong muscle right below the lungs that facilitates breathing.

Rib pain

The rib pain that is triggered by stitches typically manifests right under the rib cage, but can also occur on the left side of the body.

A possible theory as to why the cramp occurs is that the organs and intestines that are connected to the diaphragm by tissues and tendons place stress on the diaphragm. Any upward and downward movement that jars the intestines adds pressure on the diaphragm which causes a cramp. The diaphragm eventually cramps and contracts the neighboring muscles in the region of the rib cage.


There are a number of precautionary measures to observe in order to prevent stitches. During a ride, it is important to focus on breathing by taking deep, level breaths. Avoid overexertion that can lead to rapid breathing and cramping. The ideal way to determine if the individual is at proper pace is to be able to maintain a conversation while cycling.

The individual should avoid eating too soon before an exercise routine. Always drink plenty of fluids to keep the body properly hydrated. Remember that dehydration can cause cramps. In addition, the abdominal muscles must be stretched before and after exercise. By strengthening the core muscles, it reduces the risk of developing stitches.


If the individual experiences rib pain due to a stich during a ride, it is vital to slow down the pace or stop to reduce the pain. It is also recommended to hold the affected region and slowly squeeze or massage it to relax the muscles and minimize the cramping.

In case the individual stopped completely, he/she must center on performing steady, deep breaths while pushing the belly out during inhalation and relaxing it during exhalation.

Considerations to bear in mind

Even though stitches have been the frequent cause of rib pain, there is a possibility of another underlying issue that causes the pain. A cracked or broken rib is typically caused by trauma and has other symptoms, but there might also be an issue with one of the organs or the ribs themselves such as inflammation of the neighboring cartilage. In case these measures could not help reduce the rib pain or the pain occurs while at rest, a doctor should be consulted for proper diagnosis of the condition.


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