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How Chiropractic Can Help Solve Your Rib Problems

By Dr. Molly Casey

Ribs and Their Role

Ribs provide the important role of protection and support in your body, which is imperative for good health. The ribs wrap posteriorly from the spine, anteriorly connecting into the sternum. By wrapping around from back to front they form a cage, of sorts, that protects the heart, lungs and other organs/tissues vital to the body’s survival. This cage also provides structure and support for the bones and muscles of the chest, shoulders and back. Although some don’t pay much attention to the rib cage and its anatomy, it’s important to understand how the ribs can get irritated and cause discomfort. Don’t worry -- chiropractic can help.


There are 12 pairs of ribs. The first seven pairs connect to the first seven thoracic vertebrae in your mid back and wrap around to separate pieces of cartilage that attaches and connect those ribs to the sternum (breast bone). Ribs eight, nine and 10 in the back originate, accordingly, at thoracic vertebrae eight, nine and 10. In the front, these ribs attach to one common piece of cartilage that attaches to the seventh rib cartilage. The 11th and 12th ribs are called floating ribs and do not attach in the front to any piece of cartilage.

The long bars of cartilage anteriorly at the ribs are costochondral cartilage. This cartilage is flexible and allows expansion with inhalation and retraction with exhalation. This propels the ribs forward and promotes fluid motion.


The costochondral cartilage is constantly in use because it moves with breathing and if you’re alive, you’re breathing. If you’re breathing, your ribs are moving. Just as they are in constant use, if they become irritated you can imagine that the discomfort level can be quite high. The cartilage can become inflamed and it is called costochondritis. Often it occurs from some type of trauma such as being hit by something, being in a car accident, and physical strain from activities (sports) or illnesses. Pain can be experienced in the chest wall and mimic a heart attack or it can wrap around the back or into the abdomen. Often it increases with inhalation -- shallow or deep.


Can chiropractic help with pain from costochondritis? The short answer is yes. When any sort of improper thoracic joint motion, or subluxation, is present, it can throw off rib functioning because they are attached to the vertebrae; the cartilage is then also unduly stressed. In correction of thoracic spine subluxation via a chiropractic adjustment, the foundation of the rib and costochondral cartilage function is restored. Then the actual joints between the ribs and the vertebrae can be adjusted and motion restored. This reduces more undue pressure and decreases opportunity for strain and inflammation of the cartilage.

Lastly, cartilage can be adjusted anteriorly where the ribs meet the costochondral cartilage. This increases proper range of motion and decreases improper function and stress. The ribs and cartilage move more fluidly and properly, thereby decreasing pain and symptoms. Ice can help minimize pain and proper breathing exercises can be taught to reduce future occurrences.

The ribs play an important, though often unrecognized, role in our body’s proper structure and function. Getting to a chiropractor and having the thoracic spine and rib joints regularly checked and adjusted is a great way to optimize your rib and costochondral cartilage motion. It will help with your breathing and you’ll be better off for it. Stop in to see the doctors at The Joint Chiropractic and they’ll help you and your ribs.

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