rib dysfunction

You’re probably asking yourself “what is a rib dysfunction?”

In order to fully understand what it is, we need to understand the meaning of the word dysfunction – which means an abnormality or impairment in the function of a specified bodily organ or system, or in this case, the rib!

What is a rib dysfunction

Rib dysfunction generally refers to a problem or difficulty which originates from and between the rib heads and the thoracic spine region, this happens when a rib does not have a synchronized movement pattern with the other ribs, i.e when the rib moves out of place.

This unsynchronised movement of a dysfunctional rib is caused by improper alignment, restriction, jamming, inflammation, partial subluxation(dislocation) of the ribs at the costovertebral, costotransverse joints and the sternum.

Rib pain associated rib injuries is quite unlike any pain there is, for some, they come as an acute rib pain, a sharp stabbing pain, for others, they experience a dull ache, which sometimes may or may not stop completely and this case the pain will develop into a chronic rib pain.

This pain will usually be described as pain under the shoulder blades, or sometimes around the mid-back areas, especially during certain movements like twisting, bending or sudden sharp movements.

If you’re experiencing any one of these rib injury symptoms chances are you’ve truly had a rib injury, and may require a professional evaluation for a more proper assessment since most rib injuries, for example, a dislocated rib, subluxated rib or a broken rib all have these symptoms in common.

What are the main symptoms of rib dysfunction?

The main symptom of a dysfunctional rib – a rib which moves out of place may include any one of the followings:

  • Pain is usually felt on one particular side when leaning, resting on that side.
  • Sharp or dull pain radiating from under the shoulder blades.
  • An unexplainable backache, including mid-backache.
  • General chest pain after an injury.
  •  Clicking sound or popping sound while taking deep breathes.
  • an imbalanced posture either while sitting or standing.
  • Tenderness around the rib head of the injury area.
  • And finally, like every other rib injury, pain during inhalation and exhalation, sudden movement around the upper body.

Contrary to general knowledge, rib pain caused by a rib injury can be “felt” anywhere around the body, and not just on the back! Depending on the severeness and rib affected, the pain can be also felt at the front of the chest and rib cage. Sometimes, this pain can be felt at a single spot(injury area/point of contact of force) or it can be felt all over the sternum(breastbone)

The whole area surrounding the ribs (breastbone, muscules surrounding the ribs, the rib cartilage, and the spine may experience a certain level of inflammation, sensitivity, and irritation. Sometimes a phenomenon medically known as a “referred pain” might even be felt away from the injury area, for example, arms or fingers.

What are the causes of rib dysfunction

  • Apart from the apparent causes of rib injuries such a dislocated rib mentioned here.
  • Muscle strain.
  • Muscular restriction – A muscular restriction occurs when the muscles that surround the rib area experiences a dysfunction, thereby causing “a mechanical error” of the ribs. This mechanical error happens when a rib is suddenly stuck in the wrong movement pattern, for example, a rib is unable able to return to an inhalation position after it has successfully assisted in exhalation or vice versa. This causes intense pain around the rib cage when trying to breathe.
  • Traumatic force on the rib cage.
  • Bad cough or sneezes.
  • Bad posture – Most folks who are always sitting for an extended period of time with bad posture would almost certainly at some point suffer from a rib injury because the bad posture had caused some level of irritation to the rib joints around the thoracic spine regions, and when a rib has had a prolonged irritation on an area, an extra/sudden and slightly increase in force/pressure in that area may result in an injury.

A piece of good advice, a good posture should be maintained if you’re to avoid rib injuries in the future.

Treatment and pain management for rib dysfunction

The main pain management for most minor rib injuries is rest! Having enough rest will help avoid further damage to the areas involved. But in the case of a more serious rib injury, professional advice needs to be sought immediately.

Other treatment and rib pain management may include:

  • Hot/cold compresses on the affected area. Cold compresses will reduce inflammation and constrict the blood capillaries around the injury area, while a hot compress will do the opposite, i.e, improve blood flow while also relaxing the muscles in that region. Doctors advise waiting for a day or two before applying a hot compress.
  • Gently massaging the rib/area where the pain is radiating from may also alleviate the pain a bit.
  • If a self-massage doesn’t help, then a visit to a certified chiropractor may be all you need.
  • Medication such as Ibuprofen may help with the pain (Only under a medical doctor’s advice).
  • it is extremely important to maintain correct breathing. Adapting a shallow breathing pattern can lead to the development of other health conditions.
  • maintaining proper breathing in order to avoid further complications.