Friday, August 19, 2011

Do You Have Rib Head Subluxations?!

Hello everybody! I hope you guys had a wonderful week! One of the most common ailments I see walking into my office is something known as a rib head subluxation. There are so many people walking around with this particular ailment, yet they have no idea what it is or how to treat it. So what is a rib head subluxation? Well in order to understand WHAT a rib head subluxation is, let us define the word SUBLUXATION and see WHERE the rib heads are located. A subluxation is a misalignment of a bone in relation to the adjacent joint space. So for instance, a vertebral subluxation occurs when a vertebra is misaligned in relation to the joint space above or below it. Using that same train of thought, a rib head subluxation occurs when a rib head is misaligned in relation to the joint space adjacent to it. So WHERE are the rib heads and the adjacent joint space located?

As you can see in the image above, the ribs attach to either side of the vertebral column. The area where the ribs meet the spinal vertebrae is known as the rib head and the joint space is the space between the rib head and the adjacent vertebra as indicated by the red circles. The rib heads connect with the vertebra above, the vertebra below, and the disc between them. So if the rib head shifts from that position in any direction, it is misaligned or subluxated.

Dr. W. Michael Gazdar D.C., C.C.S.P. wrote a book titled, Taking Your Back to The Future, and in it, he gives a good example of a common scenario for subluxating ribs:

"Roger was lifting a heavy computer monitor when he felt something "pop" in his mid-back. He was lifting correctly from the floor to his waist by using his legs and not straining his back. Unfortunately, he forgot to exhale as he lifted, and the force of his full lungs and the increased pressure as he lifted caused one of his ribs to displace slightly. The pain was sharp, immediate, slightly to the side of the spine, and radiated around to the front of his chest." 

I'm sure some of us have been involved in this type of scenario, but what else causes rib head subluxations? 

Weight lifting can cause the ribs to subluxate if the weight is too great or the breathing is improper. Wrestling and tackle football are more direct causes of knocking ribs out of place. Even coughing or breathing too deeply may cause ribs to subluxate. Subluxations of the ribs can cause many problems because of compression on adjacent nerves. Subluxation of the upper ribs can cause referred pain and numbness down the arm. The pain may be so severe that you can hardly breathe and sleeping may be next to impossible. Any extreme motion that pulls the arm back behind the body in a sudden jerking motion can also cause ribs to subluxate. So now we know what rib subluxations do we treat them?

The best way to treat rib subluxations is to see your chiropractor. As I mentioned earlier many of my patients are aware of the pain/discomfort but don't know what it is and decide they will "just live with it" until I point it out and correct it. Sometimes it takes one adjustment of the rib heads to relieve a person of that annoying pain and discomfort. Other times, it takes several visits to restore full function of the rib heads and relief from pain and discomfort. It is important to come in as soon as you feel the pain because scar tissue can form around the joint and cause many painful adhesions. Usually, the longer the rib is out of its natural alignment, the longer it takes to stabilize and restore full function.

For more information on this subject or any other health issue or to make an appointment for a free consultation, call my office- 908-258-7014 or email me-
Remember, a healthy back is a happy back.


  1. nice post...i am a 23 year old male and just went to a chiropractor to get treatment for this...i didn't even know what the injury was but i had this sharp pain for 18 almost 24 months. i am continuing my visits to the chiropractor to get this completely fixed.

    1. Dear anonymous 23 year old male,

      I am happy to hear that you are seeing a chiropractor for this. You will start to notice a lot of improvement almost immediately. Make sure you don't break from the treatment plan your chiropractor has for you and keep us updated on your progress.

  2. Is this something can can fix itself? As I was getting into my car today I had a sharp stabbing pain in my upper/mid back and could not take a breath without excruciating pain. About 30 seconds later I heard a pop and the pain was gone. Could this have been a temporary misalignment that fixed itself?

  3. Hey Alison,

    It's very possible that your subluxated rib corrected itself but I would still get it checked out just to make sure.

  4. sir i have a pain in my right chest at the time of a strong press.some times a deep breath also make this problem.

  5. I am so glad I have found this. I have been having this type of pain for 10 years now and it has progressively gotten worse. I have seen numerous doctors and even a chiro, and have had numerous xrays and MRIs to no avail. Now I am out of work and no longer have health insurance and the pain is excruciating. This is why I am here now, I started researching again after not looking into it for a few years and ran across your page. The pain I have radiates all throughout my left scapula area into my neck. It feels so deep that it radiates into my front torso in and under my pectoral. Its so strange and hard to describe to doctors. As of late it has started hurting more when I take deeper breaths and I have a constant sharp stabbing pain in my upper back. It is absolutely awful. At times I even feel a pressure type feeling in my left elbow that almost feels like mild tendonitis. It feels like how people would describe a pinched nerve, but the MRIs I have had dont show anything of significance according to the doctors. I even had an exploratory surgery done on my left shoulder because one of the idiot doctors said he thought it may be some scar tissue built up in there from years of lifting weights casing the pain. I am constantly looked at like an idiot because I am constantly in pain and grunting while stretching my neck, and yet I can still do anything I want physically just with lots of pain involved. My own family even thinks I am lying since the the docs and MRIs show nothing. Even the nerve test(EMG) which was very painful came back normal. I went from a fit and strong male 10 years ago to a sedentary out of shape piece of crap. Even worse than the pain is the depression which it has caused do to me not being able to participate in my one true love of pumping iron. Can you please give me your opinion on everything I have described to you in my post? Thank you so much in advance

  6. I had never heard of a subluxated rib and thought I had just bruised it but my dentist told me to go to a chiropractor and that is what she found! yeah! I can move again!

  7. Hi there.
    Great information. I have hypermobility and thus have had many run in's with rib subluxations.
    The first time was several years ago when coming off long term meds that gave me withdrawal problems and I shivered violently which caused my sixth rib to misalign. The pain went into my arm also and breathing was so painful.
    Recently I was doing some exercise and had'nt tightened my core enough and thats all it took to put two ribs out and jam up my thoracic area.
    Thankfully I am under the care of a competant osteopath for the past six years but my car accident years before left me with alot of musculoskeletal issues!

  8. Dr. O,

    Hi, I believe I suffered a subluxated rib while working out. I was performing rows and bench press and starting feeling a dull pain just off center of my mid back to the left. It's been 2 months now and there is still some pain but mostly the only symptom is a cracking noise in the injured area during a deep breath, and crackling noises when retracting my shoulderblades. Could this cracking noise be indicative of a rib being out of place?

  9. Thank you for this easy-to-understand description of rib head subluxation. I had no idea what this was until today when I visited a chiropractor to see why I was experiencing sharp pain in my back/shoulder from intense weightlifting.