Are your ribs causing you problems?

Ribs. You might not think about them all that much.  They seem quite inconspicuous most of the time.

There are 12 pairs of them that come together to form your ribcage which protects yours heart, lungs and major blood vessels. They also provide attachments for your spine, ligaments and muscles.  Every breath you take requires the ribs to move along with the diaphragm and little muscles between the ribs (the intercostals) to work. They don’t rest, they can’t have an easy day, you need them all day every day.

So, when a patient comes in with shoulder pain, neck pain, flank pain, indigestion could it be related to the ribcage or the way they are breathing?

Related to rib issues

Things that I need to consider are:

  • Possible irritation of the shoulder complex by the upper rib position;
  • Nerve pinching across the top of the ribs;
  • Tight muscles between the shoulder blade or upper arm and ribs
  • Tension in the scalene muscles that attach to neck bones and the ribcage.
  • Altered breathing mechanics -possibly upper rib breathing with stress;
  • Tension in the diaphragm squeezing the lower ribs;
  • Tension in the diaphragm and acid reflux;
  • Pathologies and breaks in the ribs or spine;
  • Many other considerations.
Pains not entirely caused by rib mechanics

In the last fortnight alone I have seen two elderly patients. They came in with ‘back pain’ but I suspect they may have (pathological) rib or spine fractures.  These can happen spontaneously as the bones become thinner with age.  This mostly happens with women especially due to the drop in circulating oestrogen after the menopause causing osteoporosis.  It happens in men too but is less common and often occurs later in life. Luckily both of these patients have lovely GPs who are looking after them wonderfully and sent these patients off for X-rays. I can then help these patients with treatment or just advise them and help them understand their symptoms.

Osteopaths and health concerns

Osteopathy seems mostly concerned with the skeleton, the bones and joints and what your muscles are doing.  However, we are trained to also have our eagle-eyes out for undiagnosed medical problems and to refer you to your doctor when needed.  This is why we ask so many questions about your health and medical history.  We aren’t just being nosey!

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