Sharp Pain In Diaphragm When Inhaling: Causes & Treatment Options

Diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle in the lower part of ribcage which separates the organs of chest from the abdominal cavity. It is the main muscle responsible for breathing. When you breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and moves downwards and when you exhale diaphragm relaxes and move upwards.

Sharp pain in diaphragm is quiet discomforting for the patient as it can hinder his daily routine activities. The pain can be experienced on one side or both the sides if both the diaphragms are involved. Diaphragmatic pain is usually experienced on the sides of the upper quadrant of abdomen, on side wall of chest or it sometimes refers to the shoulder.

Similar to any muscle, diaphragm can be affected with injuries and disorders. One of its symptoms is manifested as sharp pain which may occur while inhaling air or due to pressure produced by coughing.

What Causes Pain In Diaphragm When Inhaling?

Usually diaphragmatic pain is sharp stitching pain. Just like any other muscles, diaphragm can undergo spasm and cramps. Stress and strain to the ligaments attached to diaphragm can cause sudden contraction of the muscle. The symptoms manifest in the form of sharp pain on the sides of lower chest wall and in upper quadrant of abdomen.

Causes of diaphragmatic pain may vary, but they are usually associated with the anatomical structure of the diaphragm itself or the organs which come in contact with it. The other important reason is neurologic dysfunction. Here are important causes of sharp pain in diaphragm:

  • Severe external trauma on trunk or upper abdomen either due to a blunt injury or a penetrating object can cause rupture of diaphragm. Rupture of diaphragm is common in motor accidents. The muscle is innervated with phrenic nerves. It carries messages from brain to diaphragm and in reverse way.
    Injury or a tear can irritate the nerves producing severe sharp shooting pain.
  • Diaphragmatic hernia is a disorder since birth or later in life. It is a defect in the diaphragm which allows the organs of abdomen to move upwards in the chest area. Congenital diaphragm develops during the developmental stage of fetus in the womb. Acquired diaphragmatic hernia occurs due to an injury. Both can cause sharp pain while inhaling air.
  • Many people suffering from asthma, emphysema, pneumonia, and bronchitis have pain in diaphragm while breathing. Irritation of nerve supplying the diaphragm can cause pain. It usually occurs while deep breathing in emphysema or a spasmodic cough in bronchitis.

 Treatment For Pain In Diaphragm When Breathing

Treatment of pain in diaphragm depends on the underlying cause. Treating the cause will relieve the pain. Actually pain is one of the symptoms of an injury or disorder of diaphragm.

  • For example if the cause is diaphragmatic hernia, it has to be treated surgically. The organs of abdomen have to be placed back in their natural location from the chest.
  • In case of congenital hernia, it has to be performed within 2 days after the baby is born. In case of an accidental injury the patient has to be stabilized and then he is taken up for the surgery. There may be internal bleeding after the trauma.
  • Treating bronchitis or emphysema with suitable medications helps to alleviate sharp shooting pain in diaphragm.
  • If the pain is of neurologic origin, proper painkillers and exercise will help in reducing the pain.
  • In case of rupture of diaphragm, surgical repair of the muscle or folding the muscle with surgery may be necessary to alleviate pain as well as other symptoms. Phrenic nerve is the nerve which carries the nerve impulses from diaphragm. It may also require to be repaired during the surgery as they are irritated due to trauma.