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How Your Ribs Affect Your Spine and Your Health

By Dr. Molly Casey

Older Man Experiencing Rib Pain

People sometimes mistake rib pain for spine pain, and that’s perfectly understandable. First let’s start with a little anatomy lesson. Your body has 24 ribs, twelve on each side, which stem from the thoracic vertebrae T1-T12 and wrap around to the front of your body creating the rib cage. Ribs 1-7 are called “true ribs” because they each attach via costal cartilage to your sternum (commonly called the breastbone). Ribs 8-10 are called “false ribs,” but are attached to the sternum by a single piece of cartilage vs. multiple pieces of costal cartilage. Ribs 11-12 are called “floating ribs,” since they don’t directly attach to the sternum.

The Importance of Your Ribs

Your ribs and the cage they form serve a critical dual purpose. First, it serves as a protective barrier around the heart, lungs and liver. Second, it provides a great deal of stability and support to your thoracic spine.

Understanding and Identifying Rib Dysfunction

Just like vertebrae in your spine, ribs can be misaligned (subluxated) causing joint dysfunction and decreased range of motion. When your ribs are not functioning as they should, it’s reasonable to consider that your thoracic spine is experiencing decreases in stability. This simple cause and effect can then lead to a breakdown in communication between the nervous system and other parts of the body critical to your overall health.

In their mildest form, when ribs become misaligned, one often feels a dull, achy pain in the region. In more severe cases, it can feel like a sharp stabbing pain that can radiate around the front and back of the ribs. In some cases patients have even mistaken this pain as a heart attack -- understandably so, since the simple activity of inhaling and exhaling can dramatically increase radiating pain.

Chiropractic for Rib Dysfunction

By now you may be thinking that a misaligned rib sounds similar to a misaligned vertebrae and, if that’s the case, you’re right. So does this mean that ribs can be adjusted? Absolutely! Chiropractic adjustments can help restore proper function and range of motion to your ribs while rapidly decreasing symptoms of pain.

The ribs affect the spine, and also play a pivotal role in your overall health. It’s easy to overlook this connection, but making sure your chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic provides an evaluation of your rib function will help you remain on the leading edge of your good health.

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