Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) can cause pain in the chest and ribs, particularly when breathing. While no cure exists for AS, there are a number of treatment options that can help reduce AS symptoms, including pain in the ribs and chest.

AS is a type of inflammatory arthritis that often affects the joints in the spine and pelvis.

AS causes a person to feel pain and stiffness in their joints. Over time, it causes additional bone growth that allows parts of the spine to fuse together.

Inflammation in the spine, sternum, and ribs can lead to stiffening and scarring, which can make a person’s chest feel stiff and painful as well as limit lung expansion.

This article will explore:

  • how AS can affect the body and cause rib and chest pain
  • how someone can manage and treat this pain
  • which medications can treat AS rib and chest pain
  • habit changes that can help relieve AS symptoms

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AS is a chronic inflammatory condition. Though symptoms can vary from person to person, they often get worse during periods of inactivity, such as overnight or when sitting for long periods of time.

AS can cause pain and stiffness in several areas, including the rib cage and sternum. The stiffness can make it more difficult for a person to breathe or cause soreness when taking deep breaths.

In addition, a person may experience symptoms due to comorbidities, or other health problems that occur at the same time.

In a 2016 study, researchers showed that AS has an association with heart disease, particularly with older adults. Heart disease can cause pain and discomfort in the chest.

A person should take any acute chest pain seriously and seek emergency medical care. Pain inside the chest may indicate a serious health problem, such as a heart attack, that needs immediate care.

AS is a chronic, inflammatory condition with no cure. Treatments help to alleviate symptoms and allow a person to improve their quality of life.

Most treatments for rib pain due to AS are not specific. In other words, they are generally the same as those used to treat symptoms that occur in any area of the body due to AS.

A person should work with their doctor to determine the best treatment choices for them. Some common choices are listed below.

Doctors often prescribe or recommend the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as a first-line therapy for AS.

NSAIDs help to reduce inflammation and can provide pain relief throughout the body. For localized pain, an individual can try topical NSAIDs, such as Voltaren gel or Pennsaid.

If these medications do not work or become less effective, a doctor will likely recommend trying a more advanced therapy.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as sulfasalazine and methotrexate, help to reduce the amount of inflammation in the body.

While they may help with chest pain, DMARDS typically do not help with the spine.

They also can take several weeks or months before they start working effectively. Once they do, a person will likely notice significant improvement in stiffness and pain.

Biologics are a type of medication made from living material, such as protein.

Biologics work by blocking certain receptors and proteins, such as cytokines, that cause inflammation to occur.

Though they can provide effective relief of inflammation, they may not work for everyone due to medication side effects or an individual’s susceptibility to infections.

Physical therapies can help increase mobility and flexibility.

Working with a physical therapist can help a person improve their posture, which may help them find some relief in their chest and ribs.

Doctors may recommend complementary therapies as part of a larger treatment plan. They do not take the place of medications, but they may help a person find relief from their symptoms.

Similar to medications, complementary therapies often help treat the whole body, which can then help a person find relief in their ribs and chest, too.

Some complementary therapies that may help a person find symptom relief include:

  • chiropractic care
  • acupuncture
  • medical cannabis (a person needs to check with local and state guidelines about possible legal concerns)
  • yoga
  • massage

Changes to daily habits may help a person reduce the severity of their symptoms, including rib pain. Some habit changes a person may consider include:

  • eating a well-balanced diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding alcohol
  • drinking plenty of water or other nonsugary fluids throughout the day

Before making major dietary or exercise changes, a person should discuss their plans with their doctor.

A person’s doctor can help them determine if any supplements may interfere with medications the person is taking and what exercises are safe for them.

Making some lifestyle changes may help a person feel better overall and help improve symptoms relating to pain in their chest. These changes can also help lower the risk of associated conditions, such as heart disease.

AS can cause pain in the ribs and chest. This can include pain due to joint stiffness as well as pain associated with coronary conditions, such as heart disease.

While no specific treatment will target rib or chest pain in AS, several treatments can help to reduce inflammation and prevent pain and stiffness throughout the body.

In addition, a person may consider making lifestyle changes and engaging in complementary therapies to help find symptom relief.