Dislocated Rib

Possible Causes And Treatment For A Dislocated Rib


A dislocated rib is one type of injury we’re not all that apt to suffer in the normal course of events, as we go about our daily affairs. After all, our ribs are quite firmly held in place by sockets, cartilage, and the intercostal muscles.

Anatomy Of The Ribs


The ribs are attached to the sternum in the front of the chest, and are attached to the thoracic vertebrae, bones that in part make up the spinal column, in the back. The ribs are connected to the sternum and vertebrae by cartilage. An exception is the lower 2 pairs of ribs, the so-called floating ribs, which are connected only to the spinal column. The ribs making up these lower two pairs are most susceptible to being dislocated, but this type of injury can happen to any rib, or to more than one rib.


A rib fits into a pair of sockets, where it is held tightly to the sternum and to one of the vertebrae. The sockets and cartilage attaching the ribs to the sternum are called costochondral joints, while the joints where the ribs attach to the vertebrae are called costovertebral joints. Again, the bottom two pair of ribs only attach to vertebrae, by means of four costovertebral joints.

Suffering a dislocated rib is by no means a rarity, and a fractured rib is a somewhat more common type of rib injury. In fact, more people suffer from bruised ribs than from a dislocated rib. In most instances, if a rib is dislocated it will be extremely painful. It can be especially painful to move, as the chest is involved however slightly, in almost any major movement we make. Breathing can also be painful. A dislocation anywhere in the rib cage can also be a health hazard, since a rib that has suffered a complete fracture, or a dislocated rib, can sometimes cause collateral damage.


Dislocation And Subluxation


Sometimes a dislocated rib, like a dislocated shoulder, will pop right back into place. At other times, the rib may not be totally dislocated, which is to say the bones still remain connected, but in an abnormal fashion. Such a case, where the rib is fitting into one of its sockets imperfectly or abnormally, is called subluxation. Subluxation is often considered to be a minor or less serious type of dislocation, which is true, but it still can be quite painful. Whether the dislocation is total or partial, it must always be regarded as serious, and an injury that requires   immediate treatment.


Treating A Dislocation


A rib that has been either partially or totally dislocated can usually be maneuvered or manipulated back into place. This often has to be done while the victim is under anesthesia, as the process can be extremely painful. If breathing is painful, and most movement is painful, it’s not hard to imagine how painful it would be to have someone pushing against a rib while trying to manipulate it back into its proper position. Once a rib has been placed back in its socket, an elastic bandage will usually be placed around the chest until the joint has healed. Surgery is rarely if ever required to repair a dislocated rib. A person suffering such an injury will usually need to have pain medication prescribed, as the area where the dislocation occurred often remains tender for some time after the injury, even after the rib has been returned to its normal position. The healing time will depend upon a number of things, including the amount of damage, if any, that occurred in the joint, and the relative health and fitness of the injured party.


Who Experiences These Injuries?


Dislocated ribs most often occur in athletic events, and usually are caused by a blow to the rib cage. Sudden twisting or turning can also cause a rib to pop out of position. One does not have to be an athlete to be susceptible to having this type of an injury however. Being significantly out of shape can put one at a greater risk, as good muscle tone is important in keeping some of our body parts, particularly our bones, where they are supposed to be. Older people are more apt to suffer a rib dislocation than younger people, if one doesn’t take into account the number of rib dislocations resulting from participation in athletic events. In other words, aging is a factor. Some medications have been known to put people at a higher risk of having this type of a problem, and arthritis is also a known contributor.


Of course, one should not sit around and worry about the likelihood of experiencing a rib dislocation, any more than one should worry about suffering a muscle strain in any other part of the body. It’s possible to dislocate a rib while playing rugby, and it’s also possible, though somewhat less likely, to suffer the same injury while raking leaves, or pulling something heavy, while torquing the upper body sideways. Being in good physical condition helps, and not trying to do something very physical, if your muscles are not up to the task, also helps.