Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

“My rib is out” – An Explanation on Rib Sprains

Thoracic cage anatomy

The ribs’ purpose is to protect our vital internal organs and also to allow movement to assist with breathing and general daily motions. However, wherever there is movement in the body is a potential site for dysfunction.

The rib cage consists of 24 curved ribs arranged in 12 pairs. Each pair is attached to a vertebra in the spine. At the front of the body, the first seven pairs of ribs are attached directly to the sternum (breastbone) by cartilage known as costal cartilage. These ribs are often called ‘true ribs’. The next three pairs of ribs aren’t connected to the sternum. Instead, costal cartilage attaches these ‘false ribs’ to the last pair of true ribs. The remaining two pairs aren’t attached at the front of the body at all and are known as ‘floating ribs’.

The ribcage is attached to the thoracic spine by two main ligaments, costovertebral and costotransverse ligaments.


What is a rib sprain?

Ribs don’t literally ‘go out of place’ however the joint capsule surrounding the rib may become irritated or the ligaments attaching the rib to the spine may become sprained or overstretched thus resulting in local pain and a reflexive muscle tightness/ spasm. Occasionally, the rib may sit slightly anterior or posterior giving the impression that “your rib is out”. Don’t worry; it’s not going anywhere!

How did my rib get sprained?

Unfortunately if tightness has already been building in the back area, sprains may occur by relatively mundane movements:

– Reaching to pick something up

– Washing hair in the shower

– Excessive bending, lifting, arching, reaching or twisting movements

– Sleeping in an awkward position

– Poor posture (stooped for prolonged periods of time)

– Excessive coughing

– Sneezing

Symptoms of a rib sprain

– Localized pain in the back- typically one side more than the other

– Pain is often worsened by deep breaths, coughing and sneezing

– Restriction of movement in the back

– Pain may even be aggravated by shoulder or neck movements

How do we treat it?

Osteopathic treatment of a rib involves relaxing the surrounding muscles and using either joint manipulation or a more gentle technique to get the rib moving the way it should. A typical treatment on a rib could be something as follows:

– Adjustments / Manipulations: putting a “click” through your spine

– Articulations: a series of repetitive movements to encourage the joint to move better

– Soft tissue releases including dry needling if appropriate

– Rehab / exercise prescription to avoid the sprain happening again

Exercises for preventing rib sprains

If you are in pain, come in and talk to our Osteopaths who will show you what you can do!


Sarah Sturges

To find out more about Sarah here or you can book an appointment with her here .
Alternatively, you can contact our Melbourne Osteopathic clinic on 03 9908 2844.

Leave a comment