01/12/2023 by Dr. Michaela Peterson
Chiropractic Treatment for Rib Pain
Rib pain can be quite debilitating. Rib pain makes it hard to take a deep breath, or causes a lot of pain when you CAN take a deep breath. It can also lead to depression because it’s disrupting your life, feels horrible, and makes it hard to sleep.
Rib pain can also be pretty alarming—especially when it occurs in the front of your chest! Many of our patients with rib pain in the front think they're having a heart attack. If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, please dial 911 and/or go to your nearest ER. Don't wait for an appointment with your regular healthcare provider.
The good news is that most rib pain can be managed by chiropractic care. Whether caused by a traumatic impact, or a chronic condition, rib pain doesn't have to stop you from living life.
What causes rib pain?
Your ribs are comprised of bone, muscle, and connective tissue. The pain you feel in the area of your rib cage could be associated with any of the following:
- Each rib attaches to its corresponding thoracic vertebra on either side
- Ribs 1-10 wrap around to the front of the chest and connect to one another with cartilage
- Ribs 11 & 12 are “floating” ribs, meaning they do not connect to anything at the front of the body
- The muscles in-between each rib are called the intercostal muscles
- a neurovascular bundle runs in-between each rib. (an intercostal nerve, artery and vein)
There are a few specific conditions that can cause rib pain.
- Your "rib is out”: We call that a Rib Subluxation. It's a sharp, stabbing pain at the back, sides, or front of your chest. This rib pain gets worse with deep breathing
- Shingles: you can have skin lesions following the path of your rib below. This is more likely if you've had chickenpox as a child
- Scoliosis: When your back is abnormally curved and you have a high shoulder and/or a bulging rib cage on one side
- Intercostal Neuralgia: This is pain that travels to the front of your chest
- You have "a stitch in your side": This could be an Intercostal Muscle Spasm, usually resulting from heavy breathing/exertion, and made worse with stretching
- Rib Fracture: if you've had some sort of trauma to your ribs—especially a direct blow— it's quite painful to lie on your back
How does chiropractic help with rib pain?
Chiropractic adjustments can help rib subluxations feel substantially better in a few days.
With intercostal neuralgia and intercostal muscle spasms, chiropractic can help calm down the irritated intercostal nerves and muscles.
Chiropractic can also help manage the aches and pains that come with having scoliosis.
Chiropractic can help with rib pain—sometimes almost immediately.
I've had direct experience with rib pain, and used chiropractic to help. One day I was pulling my empty garbage bin up the driveway. All of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain at the right side of my thoracic spine that began wrapping around to my sternum.
I was in so much pain, and it was so hard to draw a full breath. I adjusted myself with my Activator and felt immediate relief. I was finally able to take in a full breath. A little ice at the area of injury, and I was good to go!
How do chiropractors diagnose the cause of rib pain?
If you've got rib pain when you come for a visit, we'll likely do the following to figure out the cause:
- Take a thorough history
- Perform orthopedic tests to determine if you've got scoliosis, intercostal muscle spasm, or intercostal neuralgia
- Palpate to determine if your rib is “out”
- Examine your skin to look for shingles lesions
- Use a tuning fork to help rule out a fracture
- Refer for an X-ray if
- you have a history of trauma
- a fracture is suspected
- there's a need to measure degree of scoliosis present
- Refer for medical management if shingles is suspected
How long does chiropractic treatment take to heal rib pain?
The answer to this question is dependent on the cause of your rib pain:
- Pain can resolve in a few days—sometimes immediately—with rib subluxation, intercostal neuralgia and intercostal muscle spasm
- Scoliosis is a condition that must be managed, as it can't just “go away”
- Rib fractures usually heal in about one or two months. We can help you manage the pain as you heal
- Shingles are usually self-resolving after 2-4 weeks
What can I do at home to help with my rib pain?
Self-care for rib pain is dependent on the cause of your pain. Possible self-care techniques for rib pain that we may recommend include:
- Stress management techniques if you've got shingles
- Certain supplements to help with shingles symptoms
- Warm-ups before exercising
- Deep breathing exercises
- Rock Tape techniques for pain management and extra support
Are you having rib pain?
Come visit our clinic in Aptos. Our chiropractic team really can help you manage your rib pain, whether the cause is an injury, an illness or a chronic condition. Make your chiropractic appointment online here.