Uncomfortable Under the Right Side of the Ribs? Possible Causes and Treatment Tips

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pain under the right side of the ribs

Have you ever felt a dull ache or stabbing pain under your ribs on the right side that seems to radiate towards your back? This uncomfortable and sometimes debilitating pain can have many different causes.

In this detailed guide, we’ll go over the potential causes of this discomfort and provide helpful tips to ease your pain and find some relief.

What’s Causing That Nagging Pain Under Your Ribs?

Pain under the ribs on your right side can stem from multiple conditions related to various organs found in that part of the torso. Here are some of the most common culprits:

Gallbladder Issues

The gallbladder sits just under the ribcage on the right side of the body so inflammation or problems with this organ often cause pain in that area that can radiate to the right shoulder blade and back.

Gallstones are a frequent cause of gallbladder pain. These hard deposits block the release of bile from the gallbladder leading to a buildup of pressure. Gallbladder inflammation, infections, and even cancer can also generate pain under the right ribs.

Liver Conditions

The liver rests under the ribs on the right side so conditions affecting this vital organ can also contribute to discomfort below the right ribs and towards the back.

Hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver enlargements are among the liver problems that can cause this referred pain. Fatty liver disease, liver cysts, and abscesses may also be contributors.

Kidney Stones or Infections

Since the right kidney sits just below the ribs on that side, kidney-related problems often cause right upper quadrant pain. Passing a kidney stone on that side can be an extremely painful process that leads to sensations below the ribs and into the back.

Kidney infections are another common cause as the inflammation puts pressure on surrounding tissues.

Digestive Issues

Digestive conditions such as gastritis, stomach ulcers, or irritable bowel syndrome can all affect organs around the right lower ribs. This can translate into pain under the ribs toward the right side of the back when digestion is disrupted. 

Muscle Strains or Injuries

Since the ribs attach to various muscles around the torso, strains and injuries affecting these muscles can potentially cause pain just below the ribs that may impact the right side of the back. Intercostal muscles between the ribs are prone to strains and subsequent pain. Damaged ribs from fractures or bruised ribs are other possible culprits.

Other Causes

Less common causes of pain under the right ribs include pancreatic problems, lung conditions, shingles, and spinal problems like pinched nerves. Some people also simply experience unexplained pain in this region even after extensive testing.

Pinpointing the Cause of Your Right-Sided Rib Pain

The wide range of possible causes and the complex network of organs and tissues in the abdomen underscore the importance of getting an accurate diagnosis for right upper quadrant pain. Here are some of the main symptoms that can point towards specific conditions:

Biliary Colic Pain

Intense pain that comes and goes in severe episodes may indicate biliary colic pain from gallstones, similar to symptoms of pancreatitis. This pain often radiates to the right shoulder or back and can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Liver Pain

Pain from liver disease tends to be a dull ache that gets worse when pressing on the area below the right rib cage. It is often accompanied by bloating and yellowing skin or eyes from jaundice.

Cirrhosis can also cause right shoulder/back pain, fullness, swelling, etc. 

Kidney Pain

Sudden, excruciating pain under the ribs on the right side suggests a kidney stone. The pain can move from the back to the lower abdomen and groin over hours as the stone shifts. Nausea, vomiting, fever, and painful urination signal a kidney infection.

Indigestion Symptoms

A heavy, uncomfortable feeling after eating greasy or gassy foods can signal indigestion, especially if it worsens when bending or lying down. Heartburn, burping, bloating, and gas may accompany this post-meal pain under the ribs.

Muscle Strain Signs

Pain from bending, twisting, or breathing deeply can point to an intercostal muscle strain. The pain is localized along the ribs and may feel sharp and stabbing, not unlike the symptoms of costochondritis. The muscle can also spasm or go into a temporary pain-free phase.

Other Clues

Fever, chills, and inflammation along with pain under the right ribs can indicate an infection like pneumonia. Steady worsening pain, weight loss, vomiting, and severe pain that disrupts sleep warrant further evaluation as well.

When to See a Doctor About Pain Under the Right Ribs

You should make an appointment to get checked out if you have any of the following as they warrant timely medical care:

  • Severe or persistent pain not relieved by over-the-counter medications
  • Unexplained weight loss, fever, vomiting, or another concerning symptom
  • Signs of a possible gallbladder, liver, kidney or digestive condition
  • The pain started after an injury or accident
  • Pain that interferes with work, sleep, and daily activities
  • Risk factors like previous gallstones, kidney disease, or hepatitis

Seeking prompt medical care is crucial both for symptom relief as well as identifying and treating any underlying condition early before complications develop.

How Will A Doctor Diagnose Pain Under My Right Ribs?

doctor perform ultrasound test on the patient

When you visit your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist about pain under your right ribs, here are some of the tests you may need to pinpoint the cause:

Medical History and Physical Exam

Expect to answer detailed questions about your symptoms, risk factors, diet, medications, and medical conditions. The doctor will examine the painful area for signs of swelling, tenderness, and muscle spasms.

Blood Tests

Blood work can check for elevated white blood cell counts signaling infection or inflammation. Liver enzymes and kidney function can be checked through tests like BUN and creatinine.


A urine sample is tested for blood, excess proteins, signs of infection, and other abnormalities that may relate to kidney stones or infections. It specifically checks for signs of a urinary tract infection, like nitrites and leukocyte esterase.

Imaging Tests

Ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs provide detailed views of the organs and tissues below the right ribs. This allows the identification of gallstones, tumors, cysts, and other problematic structural issues. 

Note that ultrasound is often the first imaging test done for RUQ pain.

Endoscopic Procedures

A tiny camera may be inserted down the throat or in the rectum to check for digestive issues. Scopes can evaluate the stomach, intestines, and ducts transporting bile from the liver and pancreas.

Other Tests

If lung problems are suspected, pulmonary function tests assess breathing capacity. Heart tests help rule out cardiovascular conditions mimicking indigestion.

What Are the Best Treatments for Pain Under the Right Ribs?

The appropriate treatments for pain under your right ribs depend on the underlying cause identified during diagnostic testing. However, some general treatment options include:


Over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol, ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen can ease muscular strains, inflammation, and mild gallbladder pain. These often only provide temporary relief, though.

Stronger prescription narcotics manage severe kidney stone pain episodes. Antibiotics treat underlying infections.

Dietary Changes

Eating smaller, frequent meals of low-fat foods prevents attacks related to gallbladder and digestive attacks. Limit fatty, sugary, salty, and acidic foods.

Staying hydrated and limiting alcohol intake supports liver and kidney function as well.


Gallstones, kidney stones, tumors, cysts, and hernias under the right ribs may require surgical removal if they are severe or fail to respond to other treatments. These may

Alternative Therapies

Applying heating pads or ice packs can alleviate muscular strains and inflammation. Some patients find relief from massage, acupuncture, or relaxation techniques.

The goal is to manage pain episodes when they occur while addressing any underlying source. This dual treatment approach provides both immediate relief and long-term solutions.

How to Prevent Pain Under the Right Ribs

While not all causes can be prevented, these healthy lifestyle strategies can help reduce your risks:

  • Find healthy ways to manage stress levels. Remember that stress takes a toll on the digestive system.
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep nightly. Lack of sleep disrupts metabolism and kidney function. One study found an association between short sleep duration and decreased kidney function in patients with chronic kidney disease.
  • Have regular physical exams and lab testing to check for early signs of liver, kidney, and gallbladder disorders.

Making smart lifestyle choices reduces the strain on your body and promotes optimal health for the organs and musculoskeletal structures on your right side.

Home Remedies to Soothe Pain Under the Ribs

Besides taking medicine when pain strikes, try these simple home remedies while waiting to see a doctor:

  • Apply something cold like an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to the tender area for 15-20 minutes to reduce inflammation. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
  • Heat also helps by improving blood flow and relaxing muscles. Use a heating pad on the lowest setting or a warm compress. Avoid using heat during the first 48 hours after an injury.
  • Drink lots of water to avoid dehydration which can worsen pain. Try sipping herbal tea as well.
  • Consider ginger, chamomile, mint, or fennel tea to ease stomach discomfort. The soothing effects may indirectly ease rib pain.
  • Avoid eating large, heavy meals which can aggravate pain from gallbladder or digestive issues.
  • Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, gentle yoga, or listening to calming music can help reduce muscle tension.
  • Try over-the-counter antacids like TUMS if you suspect indigestion. Heartburn can mimic pain under the ribs.
  • Get ample rest since fatigue strains muscles and reduces pain tolerance. Prop yourself up with pillows in bed to take pressure off tender areas.

These simple remedies can provide welcome relief while waiting to identify the cause and get proper treatment. But don’t hesitate to call your doctor if the pain becomes severe or worrying symptoms develop.

Long-Term Outlook for Pain Under the Right Ribs

Once properly diagnosed and treated, what is the long-term outlook for pain under your right ribs? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

– Muscular strains and minor digestive issues typically resolve fully with rest and home remedies. Just be careful to avoid re-injury. Some cases may require medical treatment or have longer-lasting effects, though. 

– Inflammatory conditions like gastritis and ulcers often respond well to medications and diet/lifestyle changes. Symptoms can be minimized with ongoing management. Take note that gastritis relapse is common if management strategies are not maintained.

– Gallstones, kidney stones, and obstructing tumors may require surgery for complete relief and prevention of complications like infections and organ damage.

– Ongoing conditions like chronic hepatitis, kidney disease, and cirrhosis involve long-term monitoring and control of symptoms. Medications and diet/lifestyle adjustments are key. Pain after surgery may require further modifications. 

– Alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage, and mindfulness meditation can help minimize and cope with residual pain. Relaxation aids healing.

– Maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, staying active, limiting alcohol, and not smoking all support healing and prevent recurrences.

The prognosis depends on the specific cause of your pain, how soon it is identified, and your overall health. Work closely with your medical providers to ensure optimal recovery and symptom management. Most cases involving the right ribs and organs under them can be successfully treated.

Try Out Telemedicine for Rib Pain

doctor and patient telemedicine consultation

Telemedicine services through providers like Kaly offer a convenient way to seek help for sudden rib pain without leaving home. Consider a telemedicine consultation if you have:

– Unexplained pain under your right ribs lasting more than a few days

– Pain accompanied by concerning symptoms like nausea, fever, or jaundice

– Discomfort that over-the-counter medication can’t seem to touch

– A history of liver, gallbladder, or kidney problems causing recurrent pain

– Limited access to in-person medical care due to mobility challenges

Kaly connects patients with licensed providers for telemedicine consults by phone or video chat. The doctor can assess your symptoms, prescribe medications, and order follow-up testing if needed. Virtual urgent care on Kaly provides affordable, immediate care for worrying but non-life-threatening symptoms.

Don’t let unexplained pain under your right ribs go unchecked. Telemedicine offers an easy way to get guided expert care and find relief when you need it most. Your comfort and peace of mind matter.