What is a Dislocated Rib? Causes, Symptoms & Treatment of Rib Dislocation?

dislocated rib

Dislocated rib can be caused by several factors ranging from a simple cough to severe occasions when the rib cage or general chest area comes in contact with an intense blunt force, twist or sudden movement. Rib dislocations are not rare albeit to the perception of the general public. Other than dislocating a rib, one can experience other rib injuries such as rib separation, this happens when the rib head and adjoining bones get separated from the sternum or spinal cord. These rib injuries can happen to anyone whether young, old, babies and even pregnant women!

Pain under the rib cage is one of the classical symptoms of any rib injury! depending on which part of the ribcage was affected, you may experience pain radiating under the left or under right rib, it’s best to get it checked out by a certified doctor in order to rule out a possible rib injury.

What are The Causes of Dislocated Ribs

As the chest cavity is a larger part of the body, it is in a forefront position and is prone to injuries. During these situations, when a person gets injured, ribs are first on the “strike” and these are situations when dislocations and fractures can happen. Younger persons don’t suffer from broken, fractured or dislocated ribs in the back or front as much as older persons because younger ribs are more elastic, while due to a lack of cartilage and the presence of senior osteoporosis, elderly’s ribs are much more prone to fractures.

some of the causes of rib dislocation may include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Lifting heavy weight at home or at the gym
  • Blunt force trauma to the chest wall
  • automobile accidents – car, bike etc.
  • Old age
  • costochondritis

Since the medium part of the chest is the most forward positioned, fractured ribs, such as a displaced rib fracture, happen more often to medium ribs, and least in the case of the upper three ribs that are in a way “hidden” behind the collar bone. Localization of the fracture is most common on the frontal and back curve and caused either by direct or indirect force. When it comes to dislocation, lower ribs are most prone to such situations, and also either due to direct or indirect force.

Rib injuries usually happen due to a direct injury, which is common in sports such as rugby, football, hockey, skiing, etc. Rib injuries are also common in traffic accidents and due to a fall from height.

Dislocated rib Symptoms

If you experience any one or more of the following dislocated rib symptoms, you need to see your doctor right away, as some rib dislocation could cause rupture of blood vessels or internal organs around in the rib cage – PLEASE DO NO IGNORE THESE SYMPTOMS

Patients with a dislocated rib injury can experience following symptoms:

  • Strong, stabbing pain in the chest with every movement of the rib cage area: Patients with a rib injury usually experience strong, stabbing pain in the chest, first in the moment of injury and then for a longer period afterward. In the case of smaller injuries, rib pain can be minimal, enabling further activities. In more serious injuries, the patient can experience strong, paralyzing pain in the rib cage and a disability to continue with any injuries.
  • Strong pain will be experienced during injury and later will change into throbbing pain that can turn into intensive stabbing pain if patient tries to move too much

Patients usually experience more intensive pain in the morning and in the evening. The Rib pain is more intensive if the patient lies on the side that is injured.


  • The patient will experience difficulty to inhale deeper as this causes instant sharp pain: The patient can be unable to take deep breaths as this causes instant sharp pain, deep breaths are usually associated with an intense and sharp rib pain.
  • The patient will also experience pain during coughing, sneezing or more intensive chest movement, such as bending over, lifting weights, pushing or pulling.
  • Pain is experienced during coughing, sneezing or more intensive chest movement, such as bending over, lifting weight, pushing or pulling


Tip: if you have just displaced a rib, it’s important to apply a direct ICE on the affected area to reduce pain discomfort and swelling.

How do you treat a displaced rib?

Displaced rib and general rib injuries like rib subluxation, dislocation and out of place rib head mostly have no special treatment (unless it’s a severe case of rib injury), minor rib injuries like dislocated floating rib or  rib head subluxation can heal on its own with any doctor’s intervention.

The first and foremost first aid would be to use a cold compress – apply a pack of ice, or pea, or frozen meat (basically any frozen item would do) directly on the place where there was a popped rib, this helps reduce the pain and swelling.

Your doctor may prescribe some pain killers such as acetaminophen, and prep your up for surgery if the dislocation was severe. if the dislocated isn’t too bad, then you’d be administered some general anesthesia before you have your ribs pushed back in place, back to where it was displaced from.

But in a case where there’s not dislocation but subluxation, your doctor may or may not further intervene as most subluxed rib occurrences can correct itself and go back in place with time.

Once the rib bone has been pushed back to its original position, your doctor will put a bandage (normally called a rib belt/chest support belt) around your chest in order to hold the already aligned rib bone in place.

More serious injuries like fracture and rib head out of place most like would need some basic therapy measures like:

  • surgery
  • pain minimization by the use of pain medications
  • rest
  • cough suppression – to reduce/avoid the possibility of ribs getting dislocated after treatment
  • preventing secondary lung infection
  • symptomatic measures
  • prevention of bleeding
  • recovery from rib dislocated, i.e. relocation of rib to its proper place

Diagnosis of a displaced rib

Objective examination

A dislocated rib is diagnosed by touch (palpation) on the location of the injury. The doctor will feel unevenness on the surface of the ribs, the patient will express feeling strong pain (such as twisted rib pain) followed by cracking (crepitation) and movement of the displaced rib head under more intensive pressure.

Radiology diagnosis

A suspected misaligned rib will most reliably be determined by radiography of the chest cavity in several directions, an ultrasound examination or computer topography.

It is not always easy to distinguish a dislocated from a separated rib, but it is important to diagnose properly to prevent any complications of these injuries as they can lead to more difficult injuries with serious consequences.

A radiology diagnosis will also exclude other possible injuries that could be connected with a dislocated or fractured rib.

Possible Complications of dislocated rib

A dislocated or separated rib can lead to different complications that can be followed by less or more difficult consequences. For example, the patient can develop an infection of poured blood on the place of injury that can lead to the abscess of the chest wall with possible blood poisoning.

Broken pieces of the rib can cause the breaking of inter-rib blood cells that can lead to deadly bleeding in the chest cavity (although this is an extremely rare case).

A dislocated or fractured rib is followed by intensive pain that often limits chest movement and limits breathing volume. Rib movements can be very extensive and can put pressure on the chest cavity, preventing lungs in inspiration (inhaling) that can  cause secondary lung inflammation.

Recovering from a dislocation of the rib

Patients with a dislocated rib/rib injury usually completely recover within 4 to 6 weeks or longer in a case of a more serious injury or fracture, the recovery time could prolong for several months.

By introducing certain recovery therapy and exercises a dislocated rib recovery time can be greatly reduced.

such exercise and therapy may include

  • Special massage
  • Special exercise to target the affected area
  • PRP therapy
  • Yoga

Return to more demanding physical activities is possible quite soon (depending on the seriousness of the injury), if the patient applies protective measures to prevent repeating the injury or worsening of the current condition.



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