Rib Out? How A Chiropractor Can Help Fix A Slipped Rib
Got a rib out?
You’re getting out of bed in the morning and feel a sudden twinge in your upper back between your shoulder blades. The muscles around it start tightening, and before long you’re getting a stabbing sensation every time you try to move your head or shoulder. If you’re able to reach back and feel where the pain is coming from, it might feel like an extremely hard ‘knot’ just to the side of your spine.
Newsflash: It’s likely a rib, not a muscle knot.
Whether it happened doing overhead presses in the gym, pull-starting a lawnmower or following a violent sneeze, if you’ve had it happen to you, you know very well how extreme the pain of having a rib out is. A misaligned rib can make it exceedingly difficult to twist or reach – even the simple act of breathing can be excruciating.
Wait, it’s not a muscle knot?
Not (knot) exactly, although you’d be shocked to know how often patients walk into Ascent Chiropractic complaining of painful muscle knots – “like a golf ball” – between their shoulder blades that end up being rib issues. Often they describe it as an ice pick stuck beneath their shoulder blade. Sometimes there’ll also be pain where the rib meets the sternum in front; occasionally they’ll say they can’t even take a deep breath without sharp, stabbing pain.
It’s at this point that we typically start talking about ‘having a rib out’. You have 12 pairs of ribs, and any of them can slip. Ribs 1-7 are called true ribs, as they wrap around and connect directly to the sternum (or breastbone). Ribs 8-10 are connected only to the cartilage in the front and are classified as false ribs. Ribs 11 and 12 are called floating ribs, as they’re only connected to the thoracic spine and then float in space.
But is the rib really out? The medical term for what we’re describing is a costovertebral or costotransverse subluxation, in which the joint (or joints) where the rib head joins the spine isn’t moving as it was designed to, causing the rib to become stuck in an extremely painful position.
This kind of joint dysfunction causes inflammation of the ligaments that hold the joint together – it’s actually a type of sprain. And in the same way that an ankle or shoulder sprain affects the soft tissues around it, the surrounding muscles in your upper back and neck get involved as well.
Why Does It Hurt To Breathe?
Most people tend to think of the rib structure as an immobile cage that simply protects the heart and lungs. But your ribs actually play a major part in your respiratory system. The muscles responsible for breathing – your diaphragm and intercostal muscles – all attach to the ribs. As you breathe your ribcage expands and moves, each rib pivoting up and down like a bucket handle.
A subluxated rib is not a dislocation. While rib dislocations do happen, they’re almost always due to more severe trauma like a car accident or a football injury. In the human body, when ribs subluxate they tend to shift slightly outward and upwards. Placing your hand on your back, you’ll be able to feel a slight bump where a subluxated rib pushes out and back. It feels like a speed bump – a very tender speed bump.
The good news? A subluxated rib is usually a relatively easy fix at Brookfield chiropractor Ascent Chiropractic.
How A Chiropractor Can Fix A Slipped Rib
At Ascent Chiropractic, we’ll generally start by taking a digital x-ray to rule out a fracture or other pathology. Then we’ll usually apply percussive massage or myofascial release (Graston) to the surrounding muscles to allow them to relax and soften. And we’ll use a gentle, specific thrust to shift the joint back into its normal position – which is usually accompanied by an audible pop as the stuck joint releases. The relief felt after correcting a rib subluxation is usually instant and dramatic.
Once the pain is gone, we’ll usually use RockTape to help support the joint in its proper position and prescribe active rehab exercises to strengthen the area and prevent it from happening again.
At-Home Relief From A Rib That’s Out
“That’s great, but I can’t get an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic until later in the week, what am I supposed to do in the meantime?” Here are a few DIY techniques that you can do by yourself at home for relief until you can see a chiropractor to actually fix the problem.
If you have a percussive massage tool at home (like the Hyperice Hypervolt or Hyperice Hypervolt Go), it’s time to break it out and grab a volunteer to help. We’re going to use it to relax some of the superficial surrounding muscles – specifically hitting the interscapular and upper trapezius areas. Rest the head of the massage tool against the web between your thumb and index finger, and use the palm of your hand to help guide the tool around bony protrusions.
Next we’ll use a foam roller to apply direct pressure on the rib heads. With the foam roller perpendicular, rest your upper back on the painful rib and slowly move your body up and down on the foam roller. Avoid rolling directly on your spine (aim about an inch to the side), and don’t extend or arch back as you roll – keep your shoulders tucked forward.
Finally, we’re going to use two targeted stretches to open up the end ranges of the costovertebral and costotransverse joints. Hold these positions for 5-10 seconds each, and then switch to the opposite side for a total of 10 reps on each side.
Child’s Pose Reaches
‘Irradiated’ Thoracic Rotations
The Ascent Chiropractic Difference
Correcting a musculoskeletal problem like a rib subluxation is a two-part process: returning proper motion to a joint and correcting muscle imbalances. If you’re only addressing joint motion (chiropractic adjustments) but ignoring the muscles that support those joints, you’ll never get long-term correction and be dependent on getting adjusted multiple times per week forever.
Conversely, if you’re only doing muscle rehab – stretching muscles that are tight/shortened and strengthening the muscles that are weak/lengthened – without making sure joints are functioning correctly, you’ll be stuck with low-level chronic inflammation forever.
At Ascent Chiropractic, we make it a point to address and correct both.
Discover the difference personalized, comprehensive care at Ascent Chiropractic makes. Looking for a Brookfield chiropractor? To make an appointment at Ascent Chiropractic, call 262-345-4166 or schedule an appointment with our online scheduling app.