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  • Writer's pictureDr Claire Chittleborough

All About Rib Sprain

Rib Sprain is one of those tricky conditions. It’s not talked about all that much so it’s not always the first thing that comes to mind when you start experiencing symptoms. In fact, we often find that patients arrive for chiropractic treatment thinking they have something else. But if you have it, it needs to be treated. Rib sprains can have serious implications for your health and quality of life. So, we’ve put together a list of the signs, symptoms, likely causes, and possible treatments for you.

What is it?

You have 24 ribs (12 up and down each side of your spine.) The vertebrae in your thoracic spine (upper back) connect to each rib via a costovertebral joint. Made up of smooth cartilage between bony joint surfaces, the costovertebral joints cushion the impact of the ribs against the vertebrae during movement. Some movements like bending, twisting, and lifting involve compression and stretching of these joints. If these movements are excessive in their force, are prolonged or are performed too repetitively they can injure the joint, tearing the surrounding tissue or even damaging the cartilage.

What are the Symptoms?

We mentioned that sometimes people assume something else is causing their rib sprain symptoms That’s hardly surprising given that pain is often referred to elsewhere in the body.

· Upper Back and Shoulder Pain: This tends to creep up on people. It’s a bit of a niggling pain which people tend to ignore at first until it worsens. Now, if it’s not too painful and you’re able to STOP doing whatever caused the problem in the first place then you may find you can go about your daily business without too much of an issue. But if the pain keeps getting worse, we strongly recommend you seek treatment.

· Difficulty Breathing: Patients often worry that they’ve suddenly developed asthma since the sprain can restrict breathing!!! It’s reassuring to know that there’s a more mechanical cause. But that reassurance doesn’t go far when you’re in pain - sometimes, sprained ribs cause sudden sharp pains from the upper back to the chest region, making breathing painful.

· Increased pain with movement: If the pain worsens with movement, then that’s a good indicator that you might be suffering from a rib sprain.

What Could have Caused it?

Sprains can occur because of a traumatic/one off event like a ball flying into your ribs during sports or whiplash or they can creep up on you from prolonged misuse.

Common causes include:

· Sustained poor posture (think slumping over your laptop for hours.)

· Manual work (housework or gardening) which involves having the arms out in front of the body (especially if performed with poor posture.)

· Intense bouts of coughing and sneezing (because you’re apparently not feeling horrible enough while sick). And even laughing.

· Sleeping in an awkward position.

· Wearing inappropriate underwear. Overly tight compression undergarments might give you a smooth silhouette, but they’re putting compression on your joints too!

· A sudden blow to the chest.

What Can Be Done About It?

Your chiropractor will help you to identify what’s caused the problem. If you can stop the activity placing the strain on your joints (by improving your posture, updating your underwear, changing the position in which you sleep or adjusting your exercise regime) that will be a great start. Your chiropractor will also perform manual adjustments around the joints and possibly massage surrounding soft tissue to stimulate natural healing and bring you relief from pain. We might also advise you on specific exercises you can do to strengthen the muscles protecting your spine.

If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms we’ve discussed above, you may have a rib sprain. But we can’t diagnose the condition without examining you properly and learning about you and your life. If you think you might have this condition, especially if it is affecting your ability to breathe, to move or enjoy life give us a call on 0413 774 399 to make an appointment with Dt Claire. We look forward to working with you on your improved health.

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