5 Things to Do When a Rib “Goes Out”

Rib HeadsRib pain can be miserable. I cannot tell you how many patients have come in to see me after visiting the Emergency Department because they suspected a heart attack or something serious. Pain in the chest, shortness of breath, radiating pain down the arm, nausea, etc. Sounds like a heart attack but all of the tests are negative. So what do you when the emergency docs send you home and tell you it is nothing? Most likely you are dealing with a rib that is either stuck or not moving in the way it is supposed to. Here are five things to do, and not to do, to help.

  1. Heat and Ice. One of the biggest complaints, when a rib is out, is muscle spasming. Heat will help you endure a muscle spasm. There is a caveat, however. Heat brings blood to an area and if that blood is not flushed out, it will cause more inflammation. So, use heat for 20 minutes and then walk around for a while or ice it. Ice drives away inflammation. Ice for 20 minutes maximum. Always end with icing. For more information on heating and icing, go here.
  2. Massage, but be careful. As mentioned, muscles are often tight when a rib is not functioning properly. massage can really help to calm down the muscles. Here again, a word of warning. Often times, the person giving the massage will feel a good sized bump and mistake what is really the head of the rib for a muscle knot. Rubbing this bump will not only be painful but can increase symptoms. Working on the areas around it can be quite helpful. Massaging after the rib is moving again is great.
  3. TENS or Electric Stimulation. A great, non-drug option for killing a spasm and managing pain is to use e-stim, TENS or something similar. These are basically devices that send electrical pulses through wires and patches over muscles. There are several options of machines and can be purchased at various locations or from Amazon. Price and quality range drastically but I have found that the inexpensive units work pretty well.
  4. Get it adjusted! At the end of the day, until the rib starts moving properly it will cause problems. Not all chiropractors are great at adjusting ribs as they can be difficult. Likewise, you really need to have the specific rib adjusted and not just do a general spine adjustment. Even after you get it adjusted it may still feel out. Remember that the muscles have most likely tightened around it and formed a knot. Symptoms can take a while to settle down.
  5. Mind your posture and quit trying to stretch it. Typically, ribs go out because of a forward head and shoulder posture. So, why do we always try and stretch that same way to get it to feel better? Likewise, stretching spasming muscles does not really work. It drives me crazy when I adjust a rib and the first things my patient does is check to see if stretching forward still hurts. That is like separating a wound to see if it has healed yet. If you keep doing it, it will never heal. Instead, look straight ahead and pull your shoulder blades down and back. Here is the vintage YouTube video I created to demonstrate. If you do this exercise and it is still really painful, chances are the rib is out again.

Ribs can definitely be tricky. Sometimes they stay in after one adjustment and sometimes they take several adjustments. Usually, the longer it is out the more adjustments it will take. The rib joints at the front where it connects to the sternum can go out, too. These are also very painful and can be adjusted, although it is a different method. Please remember that although rib pain is brutal, it is not that damaging. Stressing about it will only complicate the healing process. If you have pain to one side of the spine by the shoulder blades, in the front next to the sternum, radiating along the ribs, or all of the above, just come in and we can either help you or, at least, point you in the proper directions.

The Cost of Waiting

Abraham Lincoln once said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” The same is true for addressing your health concerns. Several times each day I have patients come in who tell me they have been hurting for days, weeks, months, or even years. The story is usually that they just thought it would get better on its own but it never did. Inevitably, they express their remorse at waiting to come in.

The truth is that with any injury, the body starts the healing process immediately. The concern is whether you will heal correctly. The body will compensate in whichever way it can to stabilize. If muscles are tight or ligaments are overstretched, it will alter the proper movement of joints. Such improper movement causes the nervous system to become confused and ultimately desensitized. Consequently, the body will lay down scar tissue that will promote the new and improper movement patterns which leaves the body susceptible to reinjury or to injury of surrounding tissue.

As a chiropractor, if I can help move the joints in a proper manner before inflammation and scar tissue sets in, then the healing process is a much easier ordeal. If you wait until scar tissue repair has set in when you come in to see me, the first step will be for me to tear down most of that process so the healing can start over. As with remodeling kitchens, the demolition can be ugly. The old adage of getting worse before it gets better is often in play and can lead to a few days of discomfort.

Another caveat to waiting is establishing movement patterns that can be difficult to retrain. Old habits are harder to change than simply making new ones in a fresh environment. Chronic conditions can take years to correct for this very reason. Muscles and joints have memory locked in to the nervous system. In my experience, it typically takes around three months of consistent treatment to change that memory.

Finally, with altered movement, the the body will degenerate quicker. At a joint level that means that tissues will dry up and bone spurs will form. Once a bone spur has formed, everything changes. No amount of adjusting, taking supplements, acupuncture, or whatever is going to remove that. Tissues can be rehydrated but they are never as good as they used to be. This is mortality. However, we can help slow down the degenerative process. At the end of the day, if we just improve the function it is worth it.

All conditions will change over time. The body will strive to compensate but that compensation can lead to issues down the road. If you have an injury or if dysfunction has been brewing for too long, get in! Better yet, come consistently and do your best to maintain good health and function.

 

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Subluxation

You many not know this, but there is a word which is either the bane or the glory of almost every chiroprator out there. That word is “subluxation” pronounced sub lux a (long a) shun). Don’t ask why there is so much controversy. Suffice it to say that people squabble over semantics. What is important is to understand the concept.

The literal translation of the word subluxation is minor dislocation. “Sub” means minor or small and “to lux” means to dislocate. When the modern founders of chiropractic started using the term, the thought process was that vertebrae would sublux from its natural position. This minor dislocation would then pinch on the nerve root which exits in between the vertebrae. Pinching the nerve root wouild then lead to poor communication along that nerve channel to the intended organs. Poor communication would then lead to disease.

Makes sense, right? Well, through the years we have learned more. First off, it doesn’t take a dislocation to cause problems with the nerve root. All it takes is a little bit of irritation. This can happen from direct contact from the vertebra, muscle, ligament, whatever, or from inflammation in the area. The point being, the vertebra doesn’t have to shift and pinch the nerve to create what we think of as a subluxation. If the joints of the vertebrae are funcitoning properly in any form that is enought to create irritation of the nereve root and therefore disease.

The goal then for chiropractic patients is to strive to reduce one’s subluxations in order to improve one’s health. So, when we get down to it, chiropractors find these areas of dysfunction and help train the joints to funciton properly.