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Have you ever experienced a sudden sharp pain in your back that seems to come out of nowhere? Or maybe you’ve noticed that your posture has been off lately, and you just can’t seem to get comfortable? It’s possible that you have a rib out of place. This surprisingly common issue can cause significant discomfort and frustration, but the good news is that there are things you can do to alleviate the pain and correct the problem.
This past weekend, we were at a neighbor’s birthday party. We ate an All-American meal of burgers and brats. As I placed the last bite of bratwurst in my mouth, I squeezed the bun a little too hard. It shot the bratwurst straight back into my throat. I couldn’t get it to come back up, so I clenched down and tried to swallow it whole. That only made things worse. My eyes began to water, and I couldn’t get a breath in or out.
Not wanting to draw attention from the crowd gathered in the kitchen, I tapped my friend, a former firefighter, on the shoulder and subtly gave him the universal “I’m choking” signal. Not sure if I was joking or not, he quietly confirmed with me, then got behind me and gave me the Heimlich maneuver. The brat popped back into my mouth, where I continued to chew it.
Our neighbor is 6’8″ and strong as a bull, so I wasn’t surprised when I woke up the next morning with pain in my back and difficulty getting in a full breath. Clearly, my rib had slipped out of place on my back from the Heimlich.
That was the second time I experienced a rib subluxation. Last summer, before I broke my neck, I picked up our Toro Timemaster 30″ mower to put it in the back of the truck. Because it’s so wide, I didn’t have the best posture when I stood up with it and immediately felt my rib move out of place. Since it’s happened to me a couple of times now, I figured it was time to write about what causes a rib to get out of place on your back, what the symptoms are, and what you can do to treat it.
Whether you’re an athlete, a desk jockey, or simply someone who wants to feel your best, read on to learn how to keep your back in top shape.
What is Rib Subluxation (Slipped Rib)?
A rib subluxation occurs when one of the ribs in your chest moves out of its normal position. This can happen for various reasons, including injury, poor posture, or even just coughing or sneezing too hard. When a rib is out of place, it can put pressure on your nerves and cause pain, discomfort, and even difficulty breathing.1Donatelli, R. (2009). Physical therapy of the shoulder. Elsevier Health Sciences.
Rib subluxation is a common problem and can affect people of all ages and activity levels.2Schafer, R. C. (1990). Chiropractic Management of Sports and Recreational Injuries. Williams & Wilkins. It’s especially common among athletes, who may experience rib subluxation as a result of repetitive motions or sudden impacts.3Haldeman, S., & Dagenais, S. (2001). A supermarket approach to the evidence-informed management of chronic low back pain. Spine Journal, 1(1), 1-7. However, anyone can experience rib subluxation, and knowing how to recognize the symptoms and treat the problem is crucial.
If you think you may have a rib out of place, seek treatment as soon as possible. Left untreated, rib subluxation can lead to chronic pain, discomfort, and other health problems.4Koes, B. W., van Tulder, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain. BMJ, 332(7555), 1430-1434.
Causes and Symptoms of a Rib Out of Place
Many different things can cause a rib to get out of place on your back. Some of the most common causes include:
- Injury: A blow to the chest or back can cause a rib to become dislocated or out of place.5Gatterman, M. I. (2005). Chiropractic management of spine related disorders. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Poor posture: Sitting or standing with poor posture can put pressure on your ribs and cause them to shift out of place.6Bogduk, N. (2005). Clinical anatomy of the lumbar spine and sacrum. Elsevier Health Sciences.
- Repetitive motion: Athletes or people who perform repetitive motions in their jobs may be more prone to rib subluxation.7Hecht, J. S. (2004). Occult rib fractures in athletes. American Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(1), 267-270.
- Sudden movement: A sudden, forceful movement like coughing or sneezing can also cause a rib to become subluxated.
It’s also worth noting that some people may be more prone to rib subluxation than others. For example, people with certain medical conditions or structural abnormalities in their ribs may be more likely to experience this problem.
If you have a rib out of place, you may experience various symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Pain or discomfort in your chest or back
- Pain that worsens with deep breaths, coughing, or sneezing
- Difficulty breathing
- A popping or cracking sensation in your chest or back
- Tenderness or soreness in the affected area
- Tightness or pressure in your chest8Bond S, Howitt S. Clinical pearls for the diagnosis and management of rib dysfunction. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 2013;57(1):24-33.
It’s important to note that some people may experience these symptoms more severely than others. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to seek medical attention to determine whether you have a rib subluxation and what you can do to treat it.
Diagnosis and Self-Help Remedies for Rib Subluxation
If you suspect that you have a rib out of place, there are a few things you can do to confirm your diagnosis. A physical exam is one of the most common ways to diagnose rib subluxation. Your doctor will likely ask you to take deep breaths and move your arms and torso in different directions to try to identify the source of your pain.9Mayo Clinic. (2022, January 27). Rib pain. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/rib-pain/basics/definition/sym-20050765
In some cases, your doctor may also order imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs to get a better look at your rib and determine the extent of the damage.
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, it’s essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible. The sooner you can diagnose and treat your rib subluxation, the better your chances of avoiding chronic pain and discomfort.
There are a few simple things you can do at home to help alleviate the pain and discomfort of a rib out of place. Some of the most effective self-help remedies include:
- Rest: Take a break from any activities that may aggravate your symptoms, and try to rest as much as possible.
- Ice: Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain.
- Heat: Once the initial swelling has gone down, you may find that applying heat to the area helps relax your muscles and relieve pain.
- Gentle stretching: Light stretching exercises can help loosen up your muscles and promote healing.
- Massage: Massaging the affected area can help relieve tension and reduce pain.10Chou, R., & Huffman, L. H. (2007). Nonpharmacologic therapies for acute and chronic low back pain: a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians clinical practice guideline. Annals of Internal Medicine, 147(7), 492-504.
It’s important to note that these remedies are not a substitute for medical treatment. If you’re experiencing severe pain or other symptoms, seeking medical attention right away is important.
Exercises for a Rib Out of Place
Before starting any exercise program, it is crucial to consult with a healthcare professional to ensure the exercises are appropriate for your specific condition. Here are some exercises that may help with rib subluxation:11Huijbregts, P. (2018). Thoracic Spine Mobilization. In, Orthopedic Physical Assessment Enhanced Edition-E-Book (pp. 567-581). Elsevier Health Sciences.,12Zasadzka, E., & Swierzko, K. (2020). Chiropractic Management of Rib Subluxation: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 19(3), 181-189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2020.01.005
- Deep Breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help improve rib mobility and reduce pain caused by rib subluxation. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs completely, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this 5-10 times. Make sure to breathe slowly and steadily, without forcing the breaths.
- Thoracic Extension: Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Place your hands behind your head and interlock your fingers. Gently arch your upper back, extending your thoracic spine, and look upward. Hold this position for a few seconds and then return to the starting position. Repeat 10 times.
- Seated Side Bends: Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Place your right hand on your right hip, and extend your left arm overhead. Bend to the right, feeling a stretch along the left side of your torso. Hold this position for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side. Perform 10 repetitions on each side.
- Foam Roller Thoracic Spine Mobilization: Place a foam roller on the floor and lie on your back with the foam roller positioned horizontally under your shoulder blades. Your knees should be bent, and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head, interlocking your fingers. Gently lift your hips off the ground and use your feet to roll back and forth over the foam roller, focusing on the thoracic spine area. Perform this for 1-2 minutes.
- Doorway Stretch: Stand in a doorway with your right arm bent at a 90-degree angle, and your forearm resting against the doorframe. Your elbow should be at shoulder height. Slowly lean forward, feeling a stretch in your chest and shoulder muscles. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds, then switch to the other side. Perform 3 repetitions on each side.
- Cat-Cow Stretch: Get on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale and arch your back, looking up toward the ceiling (cow pose). Exhale and round your spine, tucking your chin to your chest (cat pose). Move slowly between these two positions, repeating 10 times.
These exercises can help improve rib mobility, increase thoracic spine flexibility, and reduce pain caused by rib subluxation. However, consult with a healthcare professional before starting any exercise program to ensure the exercises are appropriate for your specific condition.
Professional Treatments for a Slipped Rib
One of the most effective treatments for rib subluxation is chiropractic care. Chiropractors are trained to identify and treat problems with the musculoskeletal system, including rib subluxations. We see our chiropractor, Dr. Carolyn, at Hope Chiropractic in Hudson weekly.
During a chiropractic treatment session, your chiropractor will use gentle, targeted movements to help realign your rib and relieve pressure on your nerves.13Chiropractic interventions for the treatment of low back pain. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1). They may also use other techniques like massage or electrical stimulation to help promote healing and reduce pain.14Karjalainen, K., Malmivaara, A., van Tulder, M., Roine, R., Jauhiainen, M., Hurri, H., & Koes, B. (2003). Multidisciplinary biopsychosocial rehabilitation for subacute low back pain among working age adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2).
Chiropractic care is a safe and effective treatment option for rib subluxation. In addition to chiropractic care, other treatments may be effective for rib subluxation. Some of these include:
- Physical therapy: A physical therapist can help you develop a customized exercise program to help strengthen your muscles and promote healing.
- Pain medication: Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication may be recommended to help manage your symptoms.
- Surgery: In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to correct a severe rib subluxation.
Ultimately, the best treatment for your rib subluxation will depend on the severity of your symptoms and the underlying cause of your condition. Your doctor or chiropractor can help you determine the best course of action based on your individual needs.
Helpful Supplements for Pain Relief and Recovery
In addition to the treatments mentioned above, certain supplements may help relieve pain and speed up recovery. Some potentially helpful supplements include:
- Turmeric: This natural anti-inflammatory compound may help reduce inflammation and pain associated with rib subluxation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These essential fatty acids have been shown to help reduce inflammation and may aid in the recovery process.
- Magnesium: This essential mineral plays a crucial role in muscle function and may help reduce muscle spasms and cramps associated with rib subluxation.
- Bromelain: Bromelain is an enzyme found in pineapples that has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It can help reduce inflammation and pain associated with rib subluxation.15Brien, S., Lewith, G., & Walker, A. F. (2006). Bromelain as a Treatment for Osteoarthritis: A Review of Clinical Studies. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine, 3(3), 379-388.
- Vitamin D: Ensuring adequate vitamin D levels can help support bone health and may aid in the healing process.
Before starting any supplement regimen, consult with your healthcare provider to ensure that the supplements are appropriate for your specific needs and will not interfere with any medications you may be taking.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, seek medical attention. Rib subluxation can sometimes lead to more serious health problems if left untreated.
In addition, if you’re experiencing severe pain or difficulty breathing, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms may be a sign of a more serious condition that requires urgent medical attention.
Having a rib out of place can be a frustrating and painful experience, but the good news is that effective treatments are available. By recognizing the symptoms of rib subluxation and seeking treatment as soon as possible, you can help reduce your risk of chronic pain and discomfort.
Whether you choose chiropractic care, physical therapy, or other treatments, working closely with your healthcare provider to develop a plan that meets your individual needs is key. By taking a proactive approach to your health, you can keep your back in top shape and enjoy a pain-free, active lifestyle.
Remember, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment or supplement regimen. They can help determine the most appropriate course of action based on your specific needs and circumstances. By working together with your healthcare provider, you can overcome rib subluxation and maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.