picture of the human ribs - dislocated ribs

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

A 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. This article will discuss everything you need to know about dislocated ribs, causes, symptoms, and treatments, including home treatments too.

Other than dislocating a rib, one can experience other rib injuries such as rib separation (also called dislocated rib cartilage), intercostal muscle strain, or rib dysfunction.

Rib dysfunction 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 or even pregnant women!

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

A dislocated rib can be confusing and go by many names. Some of the many terms by which people describe their injury may include the following.

  • rib out
  • popped rib
  • displaced rib
  • slipped rib
  • rib out of place

Can you dislocate a rib? 

If you’re wondering whether one can dislocate a rib, then yes, it happens. Although one might think that it is impossible to dislocate a rib due to its position in the chest cavity and its firm attachment to the sternum on one side and spine on others, it is no rarity.

Serratus anterior and intercostal muscles are also prone to tear and wear, which will cause false dislocation symptoms.

Rib dislocation or rib out of place (as some people say) is not rare; it can happen to anyone, both young and old, and apart from blunt force trauma to the chest, there are other ways one can dislocate a rib. Floating ribs are more prone to injuries – Head over to the anatomy of the human ribs to read more about floating ribs.

Rib, as the majority of human bones, can be dislocated. The difference between rib dislocation (i.e., it is wholly or partially getting out of its socket) and rib separation, where the rib separates from the sternum due to a ligament tear and gets quite close to the skin – you can almost touch its head under the skin.

Wondering if you’re experiencing symptoms of bruised ribs? Check this out

What are The Causes of Dislocated Ribs

Chances are, you were engaged in some level of physical activity when you accidentally felt a stabbing pain around your chest area, and then you began to wonder how a rib gets out of place. Can you dislocate a rib?

As the chest cavity is a more significant part of the body, it is in a forefront position and is prone to various 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.

Lower ribs are most prone to such situations, either due to direct or indirect force.

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. In contrast, due to a lack of cartilage and senior osteoporosis, the elderly’s ribs are much more prone to fractures.

some of the causes of rib dislocation may include:

  • Coughing – Having a bad cough or sneeze could lead to ribs popping out of place because when we cough or sneeze, the rib cage contracts or expands in order to help our internal organs inside the rib cage stay intact and well protected.
  • Sneezing – Some people, when having a bad cold, may dislocate a rib when they have an extraordinarily strong sneeze.
  • Lifting heavy weight at home or at the gym
  • Blunt force trauma to the chest wall
  • automobile accidents – car, bike, etc.
  • Old age
  • costochondritis
  • certain sports, e.g., golf and football
  • Pregnancy (Yes, some women may experience rib dislocation during their thrid trimestser, this is not uncommon)

More on rib dislocation during pregnancy

Rib dislocation can occur during pregnancy due to several factors, including:

  • Hormonal changes: During pregnancy, the human body produces hormones that relax the ligaments and connective tissues. This can make the ribs more susceptible to dislocation.
  • Increased weight gain: As the pregnancy progresses, the weight of the baby and the placenta puts extra stress on the rib cage. This can also increase the risk of dislocation.
  • Changes in posture: As the baby grows and progresses during the trimesters, the pregnant woman’s center of gravity shifts. This can cause her to slouch, putting pressure on the ribs and increasing the risk of dislocation.
  • Sudden movements: Sudden movements, such as coughing, sneezing, or laughing, can also exert stress on the ribs and lead to dislocation.

Since the medium part of the chest is the most forward positioned, fractured ribs, such as a displaced rib fracture, happen more often to these medium ribs.

Rib injuries usually happen due to a direct injury, 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.

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Dislocated rib Symptoms – is my rib out of place ?

Experiencing a rib popping out of its joint is no joke at all, and once your rib head pops out, the intense pain is self-explanatory that something is wrong.

I’ve had several occasions where I have one floating rib on my left pop out of alignment, and each time, I get better with the pain management before pushing the rib back into its place.

Is my rib out of place, or is it a heart attack?

If you’re unsure if you’re experiencing a rib out-of-place pain or a heart attack, you should read up heart attack symptoms down at Mayo Clinic afterward.

If you experience one or more of the following symptoms, this should help you, especially if you’re wondering what a dislocated rib feels like. Mind you; you need to see your doctor right away if you feel like you have dislocated a rib.

Some rib injuries could cause rupture of blood vessels or vital internal organs around the rib cage and can be life-threatening – PLEASE DO NO IGNORE THESE SYMPTOMS.

Patients with a dislocated rib injury can experience the 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 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 the patient tries to move too much

Patients usually experience more intense pain in the morning and 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 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 vital to apply a direct ICE on the affected area to reduce pain, discomfort, and swelling(swelling is usually a symptom of broken ribs, according to Healthline.com.

How do you treat a displaced/dislocated rib?

Minor rib injuries like dislocated floating rib or rib head subluxation do not require any special treatment. They can heal on their own, sometimes without any doctor’s intervention, usually within three weeks and up to 2-3 months.

2 Quick methods on how to fix a dislocated rib

Dislocated rib - rib anatomy

If you’re experiencing discomfort in your ribs, I advise you to see your doctor immediately and an untreated dislocated rib can lead to other secondary infections, and can be fatal!

However, if, for some reason, you’re unable to see a doctor, these methods outlined below are the top methods of how to fix a dislocated rib. These same methods are your answers to how to fix a dislocated rib in back, too.

How to fix a dislocated rib – Number one

  • The first and foremost first aid would be to use a hot and cold compress –  firstly apply a hot compress (not too hot) on the affected area, keep for about 20 – 30mins, then remove it, then 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. This is also a good method on how to sleep with intercostal muscle strain.
  • The reason for a hot/cold compress is because a hot compress increases the blood flow, while cold compress constricts blood flow, therefore the absence of a cold compress afterward would cause more inflammation.
  • Additionally, use a rib brace to “hold” your ribs in place, to avoid further damage or excessive movement of the injured ribs. You can find a review of the best rib braces for dislocated ribs here

How to fix a dislocated rib – Number Two

I’ve experienced a dislocated floating rib, and when that happened to me, there was a protrusion on the area where the rib popped out from; imagine poking a finger from underneath your skin. During my first episode (yes, I’ve had many more after that), the pain, at first, was unbearable as I tried to breathe.

However, I gained more experience with my popping rib; I learned how to manage the pain and what to do whenever it pops out. Here’s what I do:

  • First, I take very slow, long, deep breaths; if your breathing rate increases due to the panic, the pain increases with it too.
  • Then, I find a comfortable position, in most cases, lying down with my head elevated is the best for me. lying down while elevation is also the recommended way on how to sleep with a subluxated rib.
  • Using my thumb, I gently push the protrusion inward, as I continued my breathing system.
  • That’s it, the rib goes back to its original location.
  • Trust me, I’ve done this for more than a dozen times.

This is also a suitable method about how to fix a dislocated rib in the back. Although, you may need to bend your back a little bit and gently too when pushing back the rib into its place. Alternatively, as a friend for some assistance if the dislocated rib is at the back.

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Your doctor may prescribe some pain killers such as acetaminophen and prep you up for surgery if the dislocation is severe. If the dislocation 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.

Also, get a bottle or two of a stool softener; depending on the severity of your injury, you’ll have a reduced movement because every you try to make would be extremely painful.

Also, get a bottle or two of a stool softener, depending on the severity of your injury, you’ll have a reduce movement because every you try to make would be extremely painful.

Ps: As an amazon associate, I may earn an affiliate commission when you purchase via the links on the site. (This doesn’t affect the price)

  • In a cases where there’s  rib 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 (called a rib brace or wrap/chest support belt) around your chest in order to hold the already aligned rib bone in place.

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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
  • relocation of the rib to its proper place

Possible Complications of a dislocated rib

Complications may arise if proper assesment, treatment and care is ignored, and this may include:

  • A dislocated or separated rib can lead to different complications that can be followed by less or more seconday infections. For example, the patient can develop an infection on the place of injury that can lead to the abscess of the chest wall with possible blood poisoning.
  • If rib fracture is present, 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).
  • The presence of Intense pain often limits chest movement and proper breathing, thus, possibly preventing a full exhale and inhale movement; This can cause seconday infections in the lungs, e.g pneumonia.

How will your doctor diagnose a dislocated rib?

You will diagnosed by touch (palpation) on the location of the injury site on your chest area. The doctor will feel unevenness on the surface of the ribs, the patient will express feeling strong pain followed by cracking (crepitation) and movement of the displaced rib head under more intensive pressure.

A suspected dislocated rib will most reliably be determined by radiography of the chest cavity, and in some ocassions, an ultrasound would be required.

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

Dislocated rib Treatment At the hospital

Your doctor will palpate your ribcage to diagnose which of the 12 ribs were displaced, fractured, or out of place and prescribe further exams if necessary.

Once your doctor has found the popped rib or dislocated rib, he will then carefully push it back in place.

Pain medication will also be prescribed.

Care at home – managing rib dislocation at home

Your chest area is probably wrapped with an elastic bandage, this will prevent the fixed rib from further misaligning.

  • Apply a cold compress to the area, you can either attach an ice pack to it 20 -30mins each time. do this for about 3 or 4 times a day for the next 48 hours.
  • You can also alternate between cold and hot compresses – cold compress for 24hours then hot compress for the next 24hrs.
  • If not already done, wrap the chest wall area with a chest band, see link for our top picks.
  • Gently massage the injured area to prevent further swelling, do this 3-4 times a day for about 15mins each time.
  • Remember to take deep breathes, even though it maybe difficult, painful to do so, this is quite important in avoiding a secondary infection such as bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • Rest on your back, better still, if possible rest on the side which is injured, this will help make sure that the lungs are working and moving properly.
  • Propping pillows on your back might be useful in reducing the pain and increasing comfort.
  • Recliner chairs have been reported by many as helpful in reducing pain when lying own.
  • When recliner chairs aren’t readily available, putting the car seat on a recline position brings about the same comfort too.
  • Rib and chest braces are highly recommended too, they’ll hold your ribs in place and facilitate undisrupted healing of the ribs.

  • Your meals should be a well-balanced diet and must include food that is high in protein – the extra protein will speed up recovery.
  • Drink lots of fluids in order to avoid stool hardening (constipation).

How long is dislocated rib recovery time

If you or your close relatives have popped a rib then there are some measures that must be taken in order to help the dislocated bone heal properly and faster. After seeing your doctor, or chiropractor, there are things you can do at home to have a less painful recovery period.

Recovering from a dislocation of the rib

Depending on the severity of the injury, on most people usually recover completely within 4 to 6 weeks, sometimes even longer.

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.

Taking care of a dislocated rib pain at home

Here’s how to shorten the recovery time for your rib injury

R.I.C.E exercise

If you’ve popped a rib, it is best to go to the nearest hospital to have to rib put back in place. The optimum time to have a displaced rib put back in place is 6 – 12hrs, so it is very important that you visit your doctor in case of a rib displacement.  There is a first aid treatment for a rib which is displaced, it involves performing a R.I.C.E first air routine. R.I.C.E stands for

  • Rest – Stop whatever you were doing when you heard a rib pop and rest, continued movement after such rib injury might cause further damage to the surrounding area and organs.
  • Ice – Next apply a pack of ice (or any other frozen item available at the moment, this will reduce/stop internal bleeding of injured/bruised blood vessels, organs, capillaries. Apply ice in the 30mins on – 15 mins off manner (hold ice on the injured area for 30mins a stretch, remove it, wait for 15mins then reapply the ice again) repeat this cycle for about 2-3hours.
  • Compress the area of the chest wall which took the blow, this will reduce swelling.
  • Elevation also helps to decrease swelling similarly to the way compression does. Lie on the bed, but use a pillow to prop yourself up from the back, in the same position you would seat while reading a book on the bed.

Control your weight

Not only is maintaining a healthy body weight important to decrease excess strain on your body’s joints, but excess fat from being overweight also increases the body’s inflammatory response.

Eat your fruits and veggies

 A group of anti-oxidants called flavonoids shows promising results in the reduction of pain and inflammation. Here is a list of some foods notably higher in flavonoids: apples, onion, broccoli, blueberries, white grapefruit, carrots, pomegranates, lemons/limes, tomatoes, oranges, nuts, olive oil, white, green or black tea (no milk added), dark chocolate and soy. Eat at least three servings or portions of vegetables and two servings or portions of fruit per day. By one serving, is equal to 1/2 cup fruit/vegetable.

Exercise regularly

Not surprisingly, exercising regularly lowers levels of inflammation. Speak to your physician about what level and type of exercise is safe for you.

Drink plenty of water

Adequate hydration for our body is important to regulate body temperature and cushion joints. Water is important to help oxygen and nutrients flow easily to all areas in our body and to remove waste and toxins. Research shows adequate hydration reduces migraine and headache frequency.

Try an omega-3 fatty acid

We’ve all heard of the benefits of omega-3s for a healthy heart. New research shows it also reduces inflammation. The most beneficial omega-3 fats are DPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid). They are mainly found in fish and marine sources. There is also an algae source for vegetarians and it is slowly making its way to market in supplement form.

Fatty fish such as salmon, trout, sardine, mackerel, anchovy, herring. Fortified dairy products and eggs.

To a lesser extent, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), an omega-3 fat found in vegetarian sources, is also beneficial in reducing inflammation.

ALA Sources

Ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, walnuts, fortified eggs.

Research shows an average of three grams per day of EPA/DHA is effective for easing pain and inflammation. This is equivalent to one or two servings of fatty fish per day (three ounces or 100 grams). Speak to your doctor about what is a safe amount for you. 

If you decide to take an omega-3 supplement, look for brands that contain 400 grams EPA and 200 grams DHA per capsule. Also ensure the supplement contains the government approval NPN code; a nine-digit number that ensures the safety and quality (free from mercury, lead, etc.) of the supplement.

Dislocated rib cartilage

A dislocated rib cartilage is when there’s a separation of the ribs from the cartilage, it also goes by many names including:

  • seperated ribs
  • rib separation
  • costochondral separation

Chest wall pain is a common symptom experienced with every chest trauma incidence.

Chest wall pain can be caused by many reasons, including a heart attack. However, one of the main causes of chest wall pain is dislocated rib cartilage or costochondritis.

Rib cage injuries mostly occur as a result of direct force impact on the chest wall, and these rib injuries could range from dislocation, bruised ribs, broken or fractured rib bones, sprained muscles of the ribs, out of place ribs, popped rib cartilages, and fractures, etc.

As the chest is a large body part, its injuries are quite common. Chest injuries are divided into closed and open injuries.

The pain due to rib cartilage tears such as a popped rib /displaced rib cartilage can be severe, and as the rib cage assists in breathing mechanisms, it can be extremely agonizing when trying to breathe.

If you’re reading this, then you probably would be wondering what are the causes of chest wall pain or as normally said rib cage pain? The truth is there can be many causes of dislocated rib cartilage, most of which are similar to the causes of dislocated ribs.

Causes of dislocated rib cartilage

Popped Rib cartilage can be caused by either one or more of the following

  1. Vehicle and other transport-related accidents
  2. Injuries which occur while indulging in sports activities.
  3. Fall – falling flat on the chest is considered a blunt force and can cause an anterior(front) injury.
  4. Sneezing or coughing with intense force.
  5. Pregnancy – not caused by a baby in the tummy, but due to hormonal changes and other factors.

The above are some of the reasons why someone could pop rib cartilage. Although rib injuries could happen to anyone, older people, smokers, and athletes are at more risk of rib cartilage tear and injuries.

Warning: If you experienced any one of the above, it’s advised to go see your doctor for proper examination.

Symptoms of dislocated rib cartilage

Apart from the usual rib pain such as costal cartilage pain and sharp pain by ribs which is associated with rib injuries, there are other symptoms such as:

  1. Inflammation of the rib cartilage
  2. Difficulty while breathing, abnormal breathing
  3. Spasms around ribcage/chest-wall area
  4. Extremely painful to cough or sneeze
  5. Severe pain with body movements such as turning, lifting your arms, bending down.
  6. And then pain, pain and more pain around the injured chest wall area.

In order to make sure that a person AFFIRMATIVELY has separated rib cartilage, or costochondral FrenchPulp sur la géolocalisation separation a doctor’s assessment is required.

Your doctor might send you to a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI scan, or bone scan in order to fully understand the severity of your injury.

complications of dislocated rib cartilage may lead a flail chest, a life threatening situation which requires immidiate intensive medical assistace.

Dislocated rib cartilage treatment

Treatment for most minor rib injuries involve three things

  • Rib re-seating – putting the dislocated rib back in place.
  • Rest
  • Pain management – such as Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAIDs)


  1. Ferguson, J. L., & Harris, J. D. (2007). Musculoskeletal problems in pregnancy. Obstetrics & Gynecology Clinics of North America, 34(1), 89-112.

  2. McCrory, L. L., Harmon, J. E., & Bell, R. M. (2013). Pregnancy. American Family Physician, 88(1), 31-38.

  3. Stoltenberg, S. P. (2012). Rib cage injuries. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 43(1), 69-81.