How can ribs become dysfunctional?

Did you know that you have 24 ribs that go from the top your shoulders (T1) down to your mid to lower back (T12)? They are on the front, back and side of our thorax/chest. Ribs are designed to protect our lungs and heart from damage and also to assist with a vital necessity to life, breathing.

Nearly all of your ribs are attached in two places:

  1. Your spine – in the back
  2. Your sternum – in the front of your chest through cartilaginous joints

Recent trauma, poor posture, less than ideal sleeping patterns and many other factors can all result in a mechanical dysfunction or misalignment between your ribs and their attachments. Rib dysfunction is most often caused by poor posture (slouched back and rounded shoulders), weak posterior muscles (rhomboids, serratus posterior) and repetitive stress (computer or stationary desk work). Any one of our 24 ribs have the potential to become misaligned causing dysfunction and biomechanical stress on the body.

What does rib pain feel like?

Rib pain can be described as ‘like having a heart attack’ even if it is on the right-hand side of the chest. You may feel:

  • Deep, dull, achy pain just next to your spine or under your shoulder blade
  • Pain and tenderness near the front of your chest either on the sternum or on the anterior chest wall
  • Pain that fluctuates or becomes sharp and stabbing with deep breathing, coughing or laughing
  • Crushing pain and refer down the arm and into the neck
  • Sudden improvement when pressure is applied to the affected rib
  • Unexplained back pain or organ type pain (less common)

Do ribs move?

During inspiration the ribs expand the diameter of the thorax by using both ‘bucket handle’ movement pattern (upper ribs) and a ‘caliper’ movement pattern (lower ribs). Rib dysfunction can cause problems with these movement patterns, restricting the ability breathing.

How do I know it’s not something more serious?

  • If you are experiencing chest pain, the first priority is to consider potentially life-threatening causes such as heart or lung issues
  • If you are concerned about your chest or rib pain, it’s very important that you see your healthcare provider immediately to rule out any life-threatening conditions
  • Fortunately, in primary care settings research shows that approximately 80% of chest pain cases are benign and of those 50% are estimated to be musculoskeletal in origin (muscle tensions, sprain, cartilage)

Is rib dysfunction common?

  • Yes! In some studies, it is indicated that up to 50% of emergency room or cardiac clinic visits for chest pain actually have a non-cardiac reason for the symptoms, the majority of which involve the muscles and joints around the rib cage being irritated but having the same symptoms one would experience during a heart attack/episode.
  • Chiropractors are well equipped to diagnose and treat a rib dysfunction

How can I stop this from happening again?

  • Chiropractors can improve the biomechanics of the rib dysfunction by utilizing specific adjustments to the affected ribs and providing you with exercises, postural advice and any other recommendations for prevention of any further rib issues
  • As always, regular chiropractic checkups should be used to conjunction with other wellness strategies, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition to achieve optimal health.

If you or someone you know has experienced rib pain contact us here at Neurohealth to help get you on the path to recovery and breathing easier!

If you would like more information or would like to book an appointment at Neurohealth Chiropractic – please call the clinic on 9905 9099 or email us You can also fill in the contact form from our website Sign up to receive Neurohealth Chiropractic’s FREE monthly health newsletter on the right hand side of this page. Filled with great information and lots of easy health tips to keep you at optimal health!

This article is written by Dr. Steven Cannon, Chiropractor – Neurohealth Chiropractic