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Rib subluxation can be caused by anything which stretches the rib or puts pressure on the sternum. Many activities can do this.

Thoracic cage anatomy

Our rib cage is made up of 12 pairs of ribs. These attach posteriorly to the thoracic spine via the costovertebral (rib to vertebrae) joints.

The first 10 pairs of ribs also attach anteriorly to the sternum (breast bone).
The last 2 pairs are known as floating ribs as they do not attach anteriorly.
The final 5 pairs of ribs are known as false ribs. They do not attach directly to the sternum but rather indirectly via the costal cartilages of the ribs above them. Their elasticity allows ribcage movement for respiratory activity.

The function of the rib cage is to protect the lungs, heart and abdominal organs from damage. It also allows respiration or breathing to occur.

Rib cage

Rib Subluxation and Symptoms

Rib subluxation is movement of the rib out of it’s normal position. Rib subluxations can occur with coughing, sneezing, lifting throwing and many other sports or activities.

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. These include tingling, numbness and pain radiating around the chest wall, through the chest or into the arm – this may mimic a herniated disc.
There will also be muscle spasm in the surrounding muscles of the rib involved.


After diagnosing this condition your physiotherapist will be able to treat this condition. The aim is to reduce pain and muscle spasm.
In most cases subluxed ribs can be put back into place using a specialised muscle energy technique.
Treatment may also involve the use of electrotherapeutic modalities, soft tissue therapy, mobilizations, and strengthening and stretching exercises. Breathing exercises may also be prescribed