When we think about our ribs, if we ever do, we tend to picture them in front of our body, covering our heart and lungs. However, they also attach to our spines in our backs. this means there are joints between the vertebrae and the rib bones. Any time you have a movement point between two structures, you have the potential for things to work incorrectly. In this case, you can get a stuck rib. In my Norwalk chiropractic practice, I work on these rib joints almost as much as the rest of the spinal joints.
It surprises many people to hear that the ribs can be a source of pain since we don’t think of working those joints while lifting or exercising. But the ribs are an important part of the posture of your upper body. Additionally, your shoulder blades rest on the rib cage, and many of the muscles attaching to your shoulder and neck attach to the ribs. So, every movement of your arms requires the ribs to be moving correctly. And, since they also move every time you breathe, they are required to be in nearly constant motion.
How does a rib get stuck?
Every joint in the body can become restricted. So since the ribs form a joint with the spine, they can become stuck. This can happen from a few different causes, such as a muscular injury to one of the many muscles that originate from the ribs, or from your posture holding the joint in a fixed position for an extended time. When the joint is not moving properly, it becomes painful. If it remains uncorrected, other muscles can become aggravated nearby. This can even cause shoulder and arm pain as the problem starts to affect the shoulder blade.
Causes of Rib Dysfunction
There are three main causes of a rib becoming stuck out of place:
- Sleeping – Side sleepers are particularly prone to this problem. If you sleep on your side and your pillow is not thick enough, you will often roll your shoulder forward to allow your head to lie flat on the pillow. Try a second pillow, so you can keep your shoulders from being pulled forward at night.
- Exercise – Particularly back exercises like rows, and twisting motions, like in yoga. Injuries to the ribs happen when the shoulder is pulled far forward. This can happen when you let the weight hang on your arm after a repetition. Avoid this by keeping the shoulder blades pulled into the strong retracted position during the whole exercise.
- Posture – Everything comes back to posture! Prolonged slumping of the shoulders makes it harder for the ribs to move during each breath. Computer posture is notorious for this. Having a large chest can predispose you to these types of injuries. See my posture tips for ideas on how to improve the way you sit.
Some home treatments to try for rib pain
With most injuries to the muscles and joints of the body, reducing inflammation is the way to stop the pain. You can do this by limiting the amount of inflammation the body produces, or helping reduce the level of inflammation that is already there. Prevention is always the best, though, so try my favorite postural exercise to make these injuries less likely.
Limit additional inflammation
- Protection: protect the rib injury by avoiding protraction (that is, the forward gliding of the shoulder blade) of the shoulder, and maximal twisting of the torso.
- Rest: The best way to rest this area is to maintain optimal posture. See my article on sitting for some ideas.
- Ice: We use ice, rather than heat, for this type of pain to contract the tissues, which squeezes out the extra inflammatory fluids.
- Topical rubs: New research is finding that CBD is a promising option for pain and inflammation.
Can a stuck rib be put back in place?
The good news is that, while this is a painful problem, a chiropractor trained to identify rib problems can do a special adjustment for the joint which will allow it to move more easily. Usually after a few treatments, the rib will start working properly again, and you can get back to your life without pain. Dr French works with this problem in his Norwalk, CT office every day. So if you are dealing with this condition, contact us, or click below to make an appointment and start feelign better soon!