You breathe easier thanks to a muscle called the diaphragm. A muscle with a mushroom shape called the diaphragm is located below your lower-to-middle rib cage. It separates your chest cavity from your belly and is located beneath your lungs.
When you inhale, your diaphragm lowers, allowing your lungs to expand and aiding in breathing. When you exhale, it rises to its initial position.
When you get the hiccups, your diaphragm is going through brief, rhythmic spasms.
However, a person’s diaphragm might occasionally hurt beyond the brief twitches brought on by hiccups. Chest pain and breathing difficulties can result from the diaphragm’s malfunction, which can be caused by a variety of illnesses, injuries, and conditions.
In this article, we talk about the possible reasons as to why your diaphragm hurts.
What is the diaphragm?
The diaphragm is a muscle with a dome shape and is located behind your heart and lungs. It is joined to your spine, the base of your rib cage, and the sternum, a bone in the center of your chest. Your chest and abdomen are separated by your diaphragm (on top of your belly).
Your diaphragm not only facilitates breathing but also builds pressure inside your abdomen. Other crucial tasks, like getting rid of your urine and excrement, are aided by this.
By applying pressure to your esophagus, it aids in the prevention of acid reflux. The diaphragm has gaps where your esophagus, as well as a number of nerves and blood arteries, pass through.
The diaphragm’s functionality can be impacted by a wide range of situations. Hernias and nerve injury brought on by surgery or an accident are among the most prevalent conditions. The diaphragm can deteriorate due to neuromuscular conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Breathing difficulties, heartburn, and chest and abdominal pain can all be brought on by these conditions.
Function of the diaphragm
In the respiratory system, the diaphragm is essential. Your diaphragm flattens and tightens as you inhale, sliding down toward your abdomen. Your chest can expand (grow bigger) and draw in air as a result of this movement, which causes a vacuum in your chest. Your diaphragm relaxes and curves back up as you exhale as your lungs force the air out.
The diaphragm is home to numerous blood arteries, nerves, and soft tissues. These consist of the:
- A large artery called the aorta that transports blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
- The esophagus which is a tube that links the stomach to the throat. The esophagus transports food and drinks to the stomach.
- A vein that leads to your heart called the inferior vena cava.
- Phrenic nerve, which regulates the movement of the diaphragm.
- The lymphatic system includes the thoracic duct, a tube that transports the bodily fluid known as lymph.
- The vagus nerve, which performs a variety of crucial functions, aids in regulating the digestive system.
Signs of pain in the diaphragm
You might encounter one or more of the following signs and symptoms, depending on what is causing your diaphragm to hurt:
- after eating, you have discomfort and shortness of breath and
- cannot take a deep breath
- low amounts of blood oxygen
- chest or lower rib discomfort
- sharp aches when inhaling or exhaling deeply
- pain in your side that travels across the center of your back
- spasms of varied degrees of intensity
Why does my diaphragm hurt?
Many different factors, some mild and some potentially serious, might contribute to diaphragm pain. Here are a few examples.
When you exercise vigorously, such as jogging, your diaphragm may spasm, which might hurt your sides. It may hurt quite sharply or tightly. It limits breathing and makes it uncomfortable for you to take a deep breath.
If you encounter this type of pain while exercising, take a little break to calm your breathing and reduce the spasms. (If you continue, the pain will become worse.)
A hurting diaphragm (pain) that is intermittent (that is, it comes and goes) or persistent can result from trauma to the diaphragm from an injury, a vehicle accident, or surgery. In extreme circumstances, damage can result in a diaphragm rupture, a tear in the muscle requiring surgery.
Pain from a strained rib muscle, which can be brought on by trauma, coughing, pulling, or twisting motions, might be mistaken for diaphragm pain. This kind of pain can also be brought on by rib fractures.
Hiatal hernias occur when the upper portion of your stomach protrudes through the diaphragm. When an organ in your abdomen protrudes into the chest cavity, it becomes a diaphragmatic hernia.
These hernias can develop as a result of trauma, aging, and obesity or they can be present at birth. Surgery could be necessary to treat hernias.
When you exhale while experiencing a diaphragm muscular spasm, the diaphragm does not relax and curve back up. It tightens and contracts, resulting in an abdominal cramp. A “side stitch,” as this sort of spasm is sometimes referred to, can be brought on by strenuous exertion. Rest typically makes things better.
Damage to the phrenic nerve
Cancer, autoimmune disorders, or physical trauma can all cause nerve injury. It can also occur during procedures like lung transplants and heart bypass surgery. Aortic aneurysms, cervical spondylosis, and tumors can all compress or harm the nerve.
The inflammation of the nerve can be brought on by illnesses like West Nile virus and Lyme disease as well as conditions like HIV (swollen).
Paralysis or weakness
Diaphragmatic palsy can be brought on by neuromuscular conditions (weakness of the diaphragm muscle). Multiple sclerosis (MS) and ALS are examples of them. The diaphragm may also deteriorate due to lung conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, spinal cord injuries, or neuropathy brought on by diabetes (COPD).
One of the most noticeable signs of gallbladder issues is mid- to upper-right abdominal pain, which is readily misinterpreted for diaphragm pain.
The diaphragm is forced upward as the pregnancy goes on due to the uterus’s growth. Breathing becomes more challenging as a result of the lungs being compressed. Additionally, it may result in little discomfort, shortness of breath, or soreness.
These signs are not serious and will go away after giving birth.
Pleurisy is the medical term for inflammation of the pleura, which is the layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs on the inside of the chest cavity.
Along with shortness of breath, it generates an acute chest ache. In some situations, pleurisy can also cause fever and coughing. Back and shoulder pain are sometimes also experienced.
Treatment requires taking drugs in order to manage the discomfort and treat the underlying disease. Infections, autoimmune illnesses, and sickle cell disease are examples of possible concomitant ailments that may need treatment.
The bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs, have an inflamed lining, which is known as bronchitis. Chronic or acute bronchitis both exist (long-term).
People may mistake the chest pain caused by bronchitis for diaphragm pain.
Infections like pneumonia result in inflammation of the lungs’ air sacs. It could be bacterial, viral, or fungal in origin. Chest pain, chills, and difficulty breathing are a few symptoms.
How can I maintain a healthy diaphragm?
As the diaphragm is a muscle, you may strengthen it with exercises, just like you can with any other muscle in your body. Your diaphragm can function more effectively with the help of diaphragmatic breathing exercises. They also make you feel healthier and less stressed.
To maintain the health of your diaphragm, you should:
- Keep a healthy weight.
- Eat smaller meals and stay away from foods that give you heartburn.
- If you have a condition that makes you more likely to experience diaphragm issues, get regular exams.
- Before working out, warm up to give your diaphragm a chance to stretch. Avoid overdoing it when working out.
Diaphragm pain relief
There are a variety of methods for alleviating the discomfort, depending on the origin and intensity of the pain in your diaphragm. Some of these methods include:
- avoiding foods that induce acid reflux or heartburn
- lowering stress
- enhancing posture
- giving up smoking and excessive drinking
- exercising within your body’s capabilities
The underlying cause of diaphragm pain affects the prognosis for those who experience it. For instance, those whose diaphragm hurts during exercise will feel better after some downtime.
However, recovery time may be substantially longer for those who have had a diaphragm rupture. Recovery will vary depending on the nature of the event and any further injuries it resulted in.
Long-term conditions that cause diaphragm pain can be treated with drugs, lifestyle modifications, and other medical procedures. Examples include chronic bronchitis and the majority of hiatal hernias.