A Pain in the Ribs

Ever moved quickly and feel like someone has shot you in the back? Or maybe you coughed or sneezed and felt a sharp pain? You may have sprained a rib joint.

You have a number of rib joints that can cause the pain that you experience with a rib sprain, which can be acute or sharp or might be a chronic or long term issues that causes those knots you get in your back that don’t go away with massage.

The joints between your ribs and vertebrae are the costotransverse joint (where the rib attaches onto the transverse process or ‘wing part’ of the vertebra) and the costovertebral joint (where the rib attaches onto the body of the vertebra). There is also a joint at the front of the chest called the costochondral joint (which is between your sternum and rib via a cartilage section which allows movement for breathing).

A rib sprain most commonly affects the costotransverse and costovertebral joints. This occurs with excessive twisting, lifting, arching or bending movements, where excess stress is placed on the joint which causes the joint capsule and cartilage inside the joint to be damaged, producing inflammation.

Rib sprains can be extremely painful and usually present as a sudden onset of sharp pain which can occasionally spread along the rib to the outside of the rib cage and to the front. 

Manual therapy can help to relieve pain due to a rib sprain by loosening off the muscle spasm. It will also increase movement of stiff back and rib joints using mobilization or manipulation techniques. We may also use tape to decrease the pressure on the painful joint.

Combining treatment with management, including ice and stretching, rib sprains will take approximately 2-3 weeks to recover, however they may potentially take up to 6 weeks to fully resolve.

Dr Mark Crawford- Osteopath