The ribs are a set of bones that course from your spinal column, around your body and attach to your sternum or breastbone. These bones serve to protect the contents of your thoracic cavity. They also serve as an attachment point for many muscles and are active during respiration. Overall, you have a total of 24 ribs, which are 12 on each side of your body. The most typical ribs are the third to the ninth and are alike in structure and function. Each rib arises from the thoracic vertebra for which it’s named:
- Rib number three arises from your third thoracic vertebrae.
- Rib number seven arises from your seventh thoracic vertebrae.
Generally, there are three parts of each rib, which are the head, the neck, and the shaft, or body, of the rib. The head of your ribs is shaped like a wedge and has two very specific areas called facets. These facets articulate with your spinal vertebrae.
Ribs are difficult to break. They are a bony framework that protects the vital organs located within the chest cavity. They are also surrounded by strong muscles and typically can take a lot of abuse before they crack.
If a rib moves and does not go back to its normal position, the painful position is known as a dislocated rib. You may experience pain when you take a deep breath or discomfort that radiates around to the chest, which may be mistaken for more serious conditions (heart attack). The radiation is due to the new strain pattern around the rib cage from the malposition.
The intercostal muscles, which are located between each rib, are affected and form painful trigger points if the malposition isn’t corrected.
Who gets a Dislocated Rib?
There are a serious number of risk factors that can increase the risk of developing a dislocated rib. These risk factors include:
- Exercise injuries – People who engage in extreme exercises such as weight lifting can lead to rib dislocations, especially if you attempt more strenuous exercise than your abdominal and back muscles are currently in shape to handle.
- Contact sports – Sports such as boxing or wrestling have a likelihood of experiencing a dislocated rib because of the repetitive chest and ribcage impact that are presented in the chosen sport.
- Occupational laborers – Certain occupational activities, such as construction and carpenting, have an increased risk of dislocated ribs if he or she falls or slips from a great height.
- Osteoporosis – Patients who are living with osteoporosis have a higher chance of dislocating their ribs due to the thinning and weakening of the bones.
How Does a Dislocated Rib Affect You? How Serious is it?
Some rib fractures, dislocations, subluxations, or ruptures can cause serious or life-threatening complications. Some of these complications include:
Lung cancer is a cancerous condition that causes a number of symptoms including ribcage pain, or chest pain that worsens upon breathing deeply, coughing, or laughing. Having broken/dislocated ribs can increase the chance of spreading lung cancer in your ribs.
Also known as pneumothorax, collapsed lung is a rare condition that may cause chest pain and make it difficult to breathe. One of the causes that can result in a collapsed lung is being punctured from a broken rib.
Pneumonia is a lung infection that can range from mild to severe that immediate medical attention. It occurs when an infection causes the air sacs in your lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Therefore, if you don’t breathe deeply enough, mucous and moisture can build up in the lungs and lead to an infection such as pneumonia.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation for a Dislocated Rib
In order to diagnose a dislocated rib, your doctor will usually look for any signs of dislocations or bruising during a physical exam. He or she may ask you about your pain level and if it is difficult to breathe. In addition, your doctor may perform a specific test called the hooking maneuver to help diagnose a dislocated rib.
The test involves your doctor hooking his or her fingers under your rib margins and moving them upward and back. If this causes discomfort, the doctor may be able to diagnose slipping ribs without any further tests. If otherwise, your doctor may order an X-ray for further rib details.
This will show clearer details on which rib has been dislocated. Your doctor will then be able to see any segments of floating bone on an X-ray. If your doctor suspects that the dislocation has caused a serious lung injury, he or she may recommend undergoing a computed tomography (CT) scan or ultrasound to rule out the condition.
Following a dislocated rib injury, it is important to begin gently moving, as comfort allows, as soon as possible. Even a dislocated rib can take up to 2-3 months to fully heal, therefore, it is important that you gradually build up your general exercise in this period. Following a physiotherapy session, you will be given safe guidance by a physiotherapist regarding specific exercises to aid your injured rib.
Early mobilization is recommended to promote spinal mobility and prevent persistent rib pain. Physiotherapy breathing exercises may be combined with a spirometer, a device that measures the volume of air you breathe in and out.
This will give you a better idea of how it should feel to take a full, deep breath. In addition, there is a technique called the active cycle of breathing to encourage deeper breaths and an effective cough, which is important to allow you to clear any sputum from your chest.
If you have pain or stiffness which does not fully settle with a range of movement and breathing exercises your physiotherapist may use manual therapy techniques to help relieve pain and enable you to further progress with your rehabilitation.
There are several different types of hands-on therapy and the type of treatment utilized that your physiotherapist will likely work through with you. Manual therapy has been shown to have a neurophysiological effect, which reduces pain.
Once you have recovered from your rib pain, you can perform a selected amount of exercises at home to boost your recovery and return to your regular activities. Therefore, the following exercises include:
Sit upright in a chair and lift your arms, bending your elbows to 90 degrees. Alternatively, you can try to raise your arms and interlock your fingers. Next, gently squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release. Return your arms to their original position, then repeat this stretch 5-10 times a day.
Bucket handle breathing
Sitting upright in a chair, place your hands on your sides. This is where your lower rib cage is located. Inhale slowly, breathing so your sides push into your hands. Hold for 10 seconds and exhale slowly before repeating this exercise 5-10 times a day.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
Sit upright in a chair and place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen. Then, inhale slowly and focus on pushing your stomach into your hand. Try to make sure your upper hand remains motionless. Tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale slowly, then repeat this exercise 5-10 times a day.
Sit upright in a chair and place your hands over your fractured rib area. You can also hold a pillow to your chest for support. Take a deep breath, and slowly and gently fill your lungs. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds, then exhale slowly. Finally, cough gently to help loosen mucus before repeating 5 times a day.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment for a Dislocated Rib
Most ribcage pain normally takes up to 6 weeks to fully heal. However, in cases of a dislocated rib, may take longer to recover. Some of these homeopathic treatments may help improve symptoms linked to rib dislocations:
- Rest – Take a break from sports or occupation to allow yourself to heal without re-injuring your ribs.
- Ice application – Applying ice to the affected area may increase your recovery process by reducing swelling and inflammation.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) – such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen will support you in reducing further swelling and inflammation located in your affected rib. A pain-reliever cream may also be used to heal the area if you avoid taking oral medications.