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.

27 Comments

  1. Thanks for this write up! I’m dealing with this right now and I had a chiropractor adjust me but he didn’t explain exactly what causes this type of pain. Now I know. Thanks again, I’m going to try the ice and heat method now to see if I can get some relief.

  2. Thanks for the tips sir! But if I had to take a massage what kind of a massage I need to take and I am going to gym does that increase the muscle spasm and cause more pain?

  3. I’m not sure if this applies to me or not;

    The pain I’m feeling feels like a crushing cramp at the top of my lung; it strikes whenever I take a breath, especially a deep breath and when I breathe out. There is a tender spot on the right side of my sternum. Is this a rib out of place?

    I’ve had chest cramps like this for over 2 years, but it has always gone away after taking a deep breath with my arms raised, until today. Today it has been persistent for the past 9 hours.

    1. I have had my own share of these problems and found out I have asthma. I would ask your doctor to run a test cause that may very well be your problem and an inhaler should help.

  4. Thank you! I think my rib has been out for 3 yrs. I had an xray in my Primary care office. They said they saw nothing. Now 3 or 3.5 yrs later… I have the same pain..not worse or better. Wish they would have looked further, such as MRI but they said I could not have an MRI until I went to PT. Hmmm. I ,was concerred that if it was a kidney issue or something such as a cyst on an organ. That PT could miss it and do further damage. Well ,anyway..I did not do PT. I had no insurance . Now I will see a chiropractor. I did do that also and to no solution. Guess I’ll try again with a different one. Deborah. (thanks!)

    1. I spent 3 years trying to out of this terrible stabbing pain. So much money spent on chiropractors & massage & acupuncture!! I Had X-rays & finally an MRI both which did not show cause of pain. I finally says to my chiropractor that it felt like my neck needed to be adjusted a different way. He put me on my stomach and straightened my neck out with my head turned to the side. The adjustment was like stretching the neck into straight position & adjusting that way. It worked. Took 2 adjustments but I knew right away that rib was FINALLY back in place. Don’t give up. The answer/key to help is somewhere. Best of luck to you xx

  5. So I’ve had my ribs pop out for as long as I can remember. Since I was a kid my ribs popped out but my parents thought it was normal and so did so of my doctors. I honestly don’t like how my ribs pop out. I really want to have a stomach where my ribs aren’t popping out. But, I don’t have any pain at all. I don’t know what to do so that they don’t pop out. I hate how they pop out so much. Please reply if you have an idea on how you can help me, thank you !

    1. Ice, in general, is safest. Ice when inflamed. Heat only when muscles need to loosen up and then only if you are going to keep moving.

  6. I have been experiencing pain on my right upper back which radiates to my chest, shoulder blades, neck and arm. I suspected rib misalignment but the CT Scan I did including d ECG said all is well. Pls I urgently need help

  7. The last 4 months or so, one of my right ribs on my shoulder keeps coming out of alignment. Ive been seeing a chiropractor for neck and overall adjusrments. I just had it fixed four days ago, and I’m having miserable pain again. I’m on a limited income so I’d like to know what I might be doing that is causing the misalignment. I feel like I have a small boulder under my right shoulder.
    I’m icing for 20 max, and trying not to stretch it as you suggest. I also have a right posterior shoulder modulation, same side. I sleep alternately on my right or left side.
    Thank you for any suggestions!
    Laurie

  8. Hi, so I had a rib go out about a year ago & had all kinds of tests done & no one could tell me what it was. Then I got a new doctor who does OMT & when she examined me she found that I had a rib out. So she did some stuff & it clicked back in, I even heard it. Well, it keeps going out & I have to keep going back to get it put back. The doc says I have a serious problem. What the heck is going on with this darned rib? Will it ever go back in for good? It is really painful for me to lay down, so sleeping is very difficult. Any help is greatly appreciated.

  9. Hi,
    This is a great article. Thank you for sharing. I have a subluxed rib for many years now. I keep getting it adjusted, but it frequently goes out due to my line of work.
    Interesting enough, I have gotten heart palpitations for several months now, and never connected them to my subluxed ribs. Went to the emergency room with nothing wrong according to them, went to see my Doctor and she told me that I needed my uterus removed and a cardiologist prescribed me beta blockers.
    I ended up doing non of the above, but went to my Chiropractor, had my ribs adjusted and that seems to make my palpitations 100 times better. I still have palpitations here and there but nothing even close to what I used to have. So, this article was great.

  10. Can anyone say ow eek oww oof

    Great article. For those that have stated they have had this a long time and can’t seem to get it into place. I understand they can surgically fuse your rib back? Is this true? Expensive, but it may put me out of some hefty misery.

    1. Thanks for the question. I have not heard of a rib fusion. If it exists, it may help or just irritate the area more. Ribs need to move or there are cascading consequences. Still, desperate measures sometimes work.

  11. Hi, my name is Lamiya and I am 16 I have a condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. What that means is every joint that I have on my body has/ will dislocate. It’s been progressively getting worse, it is know to the point where my ribs dislocate. I came across your article and everything that you said makes it worse I’ve been doing. Your article was not only helpful to people who it ever so often happens to but helpful to me. Living the life that I have afraid to stand or sit because something my dislocate is hard. But, knowing that their is someone out there who can help me through the pain that is not one of my doctors is truest a blessing. If you’ve helped me you have help lots of others. God bless , and thanks ounce again.
    -Lamiya

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