Rib Sprain

What is a rib sprain?rib-sprain

A rib sprain is one of the most common complaints that osteopaths treat. A rib sprain can cause mild to severe amounts of pain. Fortunately a person is usually pain free within 10-14 days.


Each person has 12 ribs on each side. Although 1 in 200 people will have an extra one! Each rib attaches to the spine as a joint and then curves around to attach to your chest bone. The joint where the rib attaches to your spine can sprain just like you can sprain your ankle. This is known as a rib sprain.



Rib sprains effect white and blue collar workers at similar rates. This is because there are so many causes varying from bad posture to mechanical trauma. They usually occur because of prolonged or repetitive movements. Having a poor posture such as being in any one position for an extended period of time such as sitting at a desk, driving or sleeping causes the shoulders to turn inwards and the spine to flex forwards, which increases the pressure on the ribs causing them to sprain once they reach a failure point. Rib sprains can also occur from overloading the ribs quickly such as lifting or from sport, but in both cases usually the joint was already predisposed to becoming injured due to other biomechanical factors such as pelvic imbalances, leg length discrepancies or previous shoulder injuries to name a few. In rare circumstances coughing, sneezing or bearing down to go to the toilet may be enough to cause a rib sprain.


Rib sprains occur frequently in patients who are pregnant and 6-12 months post-natal. This is because there are increased levels of estrogen and the hormone relaxin. Relaxin is a hormone that allows the ligaments to become loose to allow the pelvis to expand to allow a natural childbirth. Unfortunately this causes other joints to have an increase in motion such as a rib joint, which can predispose to a rib sprain.



The most common symptom is sharp pain in the shoulders, upper or mid back which is felt in the centre of the back but slightly to one side. The pain will be constant however can be exacerbated by breathing, coughing, sneezing, laughing, shoulder movements, or twisting.


One of our Osteopaths at APSS will recommend a treatment approach that will help with your pain and decrease the chance of reoccurrence by focusing on biomechanical factors to reduce the load going through the rib joint.

Osteopaths at APSS can use massage, gentle articulation, manipulation, dry needling and taping to help manage your condition.



– Nathan Burke

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