Diaphragm Pain: 7 Causes and Ways to Treat It

Diaphragm pain is triggered by multiple causes ranging from mild to severe.

Diaphragm Pain Common Causes

Diaphragm pain is triggered by multiple causes ranging from mild to severe. This article will discuss its causes and ways of treatment.



The thoracic diaphragm or diaphragm is a double dome-shaped skeletal muscle partition between abdominal and thoracic cavities. This is the primary muscle that helps you breathe. It elevates and expands the ribcage in inhaling, returns to its original dome shape during exhaling. It serves two functions:

Separates the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity

The thoracic cavity is a chamber enclosed by ribs, sternum, and spine containing the heart and lungs. The abdominal cavity is the space between the abdominal muscles and the spine. It contains vital organs stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines, etc. The diaphragm increases abdominal pressure, so the body release vomit, urine, and feces. It triggers pressure to the esophagus, preventing acid reflux.

Produce two breathing movements of inhaling (contracts) and exhaling

The diaphragm creates a vacuum effect that pulls in the air into the lungs.

The phrenic nerve is a bilateral mixed nerve that originates from the neck passes down between the lungs and the heart to the diaphragm. This nerve is responsible for controlling its movement. It is the only source of motor supply to the diaphragm.

It is said that improper or irregular breathing is a number one contributor for the diaphragm muscle dysfunction. Below is a list of causes of diaphragm pain to further understand this medical condition.


Diaphragm Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Diaphragm pain can be unpleasant and chronic in nature. The following are possible causes of diaphragm pain:

1. Exercise

Breathing hard during intense kind of exercise without a warm-up can cause spasm on diaphragm resulting in sharp or tight pain. This pain is relieved when resting from exercise and intensifies by continuing the exercise. The best way to manage this pain is to do a proper warm-up prior to exercise.

2. Pregnancy

Development of pregnancy will make the uterus expand, this may raise the diaphragm up to 1 ½ inch and decreasing lung capacity. The action results in compression of the lungs making breathing difficult. Symptoms vary from person to person, but common symptoms are intense or constant pain, a persistent kind of cough, and severe breathing difficulties. If you suspect this, it is recommended to consult with your doctor and ask for exercises to improve breathing while pregnant. There is no cause for alarm because the symptoms will disappear after pregnancy.

3. Trauma

Diaphragmatic rupture or diaphragmatic injury or tear is a severe condition of a tear in the diaphragm, the muscle across the bottom of the ribcage that is vital to respiration. This is often a result of physical trauma like motor-vehicle accidents or a surgical procedure. The pain may be at an irregular interval or constant. This injury will not heal on its own, surgery is needed to repair the ruptured muscle.

Other symptoms include difficulty in breathing, shoulder or chest pain, coughing, heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting.

4. Musculoskeletal problems

The pain of broken ribs, trauma, twisting movements, and excessive coughing can strain the rib muscles which can cause pain like diaphragm pain. Symptoms vary from person to person, but other common symptoms are fatigue and sleep disturbances.


  • Over-the-counter(OTC) pain relievers
  • Breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Ice therapy for the first 72 hours and heat therapy after the first 72 hours
  • Physical or occupational therapy
  • Alleviate fractured or broken ribs by resting, avoiding strenuous activities, OTC pain relievers, breathing exercises, and anesthesia shots around the nerves near the ribs

5. Gallbladder problems

Gallbladder pain is like to diaphragm pain so people may confuse the two. Gall bladder occurs as a result of inflammation of the gallbladder walls (cholecystitis), gall stones, blocked biliary ducts, inflammation of the pancreas and cancer.

Other symptoms of gall bladder disease include: chills or fever, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, fatty stools, jaundice

Treatment of the disease depends on the specific form of the condition.

  • Medication (anti-inflammatory drugs) and lifestyle remedies (eating a low-fat diet, abstaining from alcohol and smoking)
  • Surgical removal of the gallbladder

6. Hiatal hernia

The hiatal hernia is a condition where there is a protrusion in the upper part of the stomach into the thoracic cavity, through the esophageal opening in the diaphragm. Smaller hiatal hernias will not cause pain, however, bigger ones can cause pain. This is common to older people 60 years old and up, but can be present to young adults too. Risk factors include obesity, bad posture, frequent heavy lifting, and smoking.

Symptoms include: Acid reflux, black or bloody tools, chest or stomach pain, difficulty swallowing, heartburn, regurgitation of food back to mouth, shortness of breath, and vomiting


  • change in lifestyle: weight management including exercise and diet, as well as proper posture
  • Quitting smoking
  • Antacids to neutralize the stomach
  • Surgery for emergency relief

7. Pleurisy

Pleurisy is the inflammation and irritation of the pleura, as a result, the two layers of the pleural membrane rub against each other making you feel pain as you breathe in and out. Causes of pleurisy include a viral infection such as influenza, a bacterial infection such as pneumonia, fungal infection, an autoimmune disorder, lung cancer, rib fracture, and certain inherited disease such as sickle cell disease.

Symptoms include: sharp chest pain that worsens when you breathe, muscle aches, pain in the shoulders and back, shortness of breath, cough, sneeze, fever, and headaches


  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs(NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
  • Antibiotic will control the infection if it is caused by pneumonia
  • Get plenty of rest. It is best to find a position you are comfortable and stay in it.

Diaphragm pain treatment will vary per its underlying condition leading to its cause. This article guides you in identifying your pain causes, symptoms and treatment alternatives. Diaphragm pain is not common, sometimes it is possible that the pain is coming from a different body part. To end, I highly recommend you to seek medical professional guidance in your pain management.



  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/diaph”>https://www.healthline.com/health/diaph
  2. https://teachmeanatomy.info/neck/nerve
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/art
  4. https://helpyourback.org/health/diaph

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