There are 12 pairs of ribs in the human skeleton that protect the lungs, heart and abdominal organs from damage. All the ribs have an attachment posteriorly into the spine. The first 10 pairs of ribs also attach anteriorly into the breast bone (sternum) with the last 2 pairs of ribs being floating ribs due to them having no attachment anteriorly.
A common injury to the ribs is subluxation – movement of the rib out of the normal position. This can occur where the ribs connect to the spine or where the ribs connect to the sternum. Rib subluxations can occur with coughing, sneezing, lifting throwing and most other athletic endeavours.
There is usually sharp pain at the time of injury. If some compression of the nerves has occurred due to the changed position of the ribs then there may be neurological symptoms such as tingling, numbness and pain that may mimic a herniated disc. There will also be muscle spasm in the surrounding muscles of the rib involved.
Your physiotherapist will be able to diagnose and treat this condition. In most cases subluxed ribs can be easily put back into place. This may be done by your physiotherapist or doctor. Treatment by your physiotherapist would also aim to reduce pain and muscle spasm. This may involve the use of electrotherapeutic modalities, soft tissue therapy, mobilizations, and strengthening and stretching exercises. Breathing exercises may also be prescribed.