A pain in the rib
The rib cage’s main function is to serve as protection for our lungs and heart. The rib cage is also involved with respiration and helps us breathe. It expands and moves up and out with each breath allowing air to enter the body. This movement also facilitates the important exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen within our circulatory system.
The rib cage is made up of bones and cartilage. The front of your rib cage is the sternum, or breastbone. It is the hardest part of the ribcage and protects the heart. Costal cartilage and intercostal muscles form the meshwork of the ribcage connecting the sternum, 24 ribs and the thoracic spine together. There are 12 ribs on each side of the body. They run from the front of the chest, around the side of the body, to connect and form joints with the 12 thoracic spinal vertebrae of the back.
The rib cage’s primary function is for protection but remember, it is also a flexible structure that expands and accommodates our breath and our body’s movements. Proper movement of the rib cage and thoracic spine is necessary for optimal breathing and movement. When the thoracic vertebrae become “misaligned” or “restricted” (not moving through the full range of motion), the rib joints and the function of the rib cage can be negatively affected.
When the thoracic vertebrae and joints of the rib are out of alignment, they can irritate the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves in the area. These joints can become inflamed and the associated pain can be intense. This pain can be felt at the front of the rib cage by the sternum or in the back of the ribcage by the spine or even under the shoulder blades. There may be swelling and tenderness when touching or applying pressure to the area. Deep breathing can be difficult, along with coughing or twisting. When a rib has been misaligned for a long time, the sharp pain can become constant dull ache and normal spinal movement can become dysfunctional.
Rib misalignment can be a result of multiple causes including trauma, muscle strain, chronic coughing, sneezing, poor posture, pregnancy and repetitive strain.
Rib pain is something one should always get properly assessed to ascertain the accurate cause of the pain and potential treatment options.
If you have tightness in your chest or arms accompanied by nausea, indigestion and shortness of breath, immediate medical attention is necessary to rule a heart attack. If you have sustained an injury to the chest and suspect a rib fracture, immediate medical attention is also necessary to rule out secondary trauma to the lungs, kidneys and spleen.
Chiropractors are musculoskeletal (MSK) specialists trained in assessing and treating rib pain. If rib misalignment and thoracic spine dysfunction is determined after a proper physical assessment by your chiropractor, chiropractic adjustments could be an appropriate treatment option. Chiropractic adjustments to the ribs and spine increase mobility of spine and rib cage while alleviating pain and dysfunction.
Chiropractors can also help with patient education and home care exercises to address underlying muscle weakness or postural dysfunction that could be an underlying cause of recurring rib pain.
Your body is a well-designed machine that may require attention to address faulty mechanics or postural dysfunction as a result of the lifestyles we lead. Proper movement of the rib cage and thoracic spine are essential components to optimal breathing and pain free movement.
To learn more about the underlying cause and solution to your rib pain, please contact us today to book an assessment by one of our chiropractors.
*If you are feeling nausea, tightness in your chest or arms accompanied by indigestion and shortness of breath, please seek immediate medical attention. If you have sustained an injury to the chest and suspect a rib fracture, please seek immediate medical attention to rule out secondary trauma to the lungs, kidneys and spleen.