You have 12 pair of ribs that attach to the “thoracic” region of your spine. The ribs serve to protect your heart, lungs, and other vital organs. Each rib is shaped much like a “bucket handle” arching from your spine to your breastbone (sternum) in front. Your ribs must move freely when you breathe, bend, twist, and reach. The term “costovertebral dysfunction” means that one or more of your ribs has become restricted or slightly malpositioned from it’s attachment to the spine.
Rib problems can develop in many ways. Sometimes they are brought on by an accident or injury; other times, they develop from repetitive strains or poor posture. Rib malpositions are common during pregnancy or after a whiplash injury.
Symptoms sometimes begin following a sudden or explosive movement, like coughing or sneezing, reaching, pushing, or pulling. Other times, a specific cause cannot be recalled. Rib dysfunction may cause pain near or slightly to the side of your spine with possible radiation of symptoms along your rib, sometimes all the way to the front. Some patients feel as though they were “shot by an arrow.” Rib problems are a frequently overlooked source of chest and abdominal pain.
Be sure to tell your chiropractor if your symptoms include any unusual cough, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, fever, flu-like complaints or if you notice a rash developing along the border of your rib. Seek immediate medical treatment if you notice chest “pressure” or “squeezing”, symptoms that radiate into your arm and jaw, or if you have chest pain or shortness of breath with exertion, as these are possible symptoms of heart problems and must be addressed immediately.
Most patients report rapid relief following chiropractic care. Our office can provide several tools to help ease your pain. To speed your recovery, you should avoid activities that increase your pain. Initially, you may need to limit reaching, pushing, and pulling. Women may benefit by temporarily switching to a sports bra to help better diffuse pressure over irritated ribs. Some patients report relief by using sports creams, NSAIDs, or applying ice for 15-20 minutes directly over the painful area.