Let’s get some basics rib anatomy out of the way first...
Most humans have 12 ribs on each side. The ribs connect to the breastbone (sternum) in the front, and the spine in the back.
The first 7 ribs attach directly to the breastbone, ribs 8-10 attach via cartilage, and ribs 11-12 ‘float’, meaning they don’t attach to the sternum.
When you consider all the different connections between those bones, the rib cage is quite complex. As chiropractor, I frequently deal with issues that arise from misalignment, strains, or minor trauma to the rib cage.
When there are misalignments or irritation of the joints connecting the ribs to the spine (aka ‘rib dysfunction’ or ‘popping a rib’), you will likely feel:
- Sharp pain in the back or rib area
- Pain that gets worse when taking a deep breath in
- Pain that shoots into the chest
Misalignment/irritation of the rib-spine joints can be caused by things like:
- Quick twisting motions (like golfing)
- Car accidents
Although patients will often refer to this condition as ‘popping out a rib’, if you were to take an x-ray, you would not physically see the rib being dislocated. (If it was, you’d need to be in the ER!)
However, through palpation, manual practitioners like chiropractors (with trained hands) can feel a lack of movement in the joint, often accompanied by inflammation and tense musculature surrounding the joint.
With true rib dysfunction, chiropractic adjustments can work like magic.
Though ice and rest may provide some temporary relief, an adjustment at the correct location with the correct direction of force is often the only thing that can provide relief. Significant relief can be felt after just one treatment, although multiple treatments may be required and are encouraged to restore proper joint motion and muscle tone.