Costovertebral Dysfunction

Stuck Rib, Rib Pain, or Costovertebral Dysfunction

Rib problems can develop in many ways. Sometimes they are brought on by an accident or injury; other times, they can develop from repetitive strains or poor posture. If you’re experiencing rib pain, read below to learn more about what could be causing it, how to improve it, and what to look for to make sure it is actually a rib problem.


Why do my ribs hurt?

You have 12 pairs of ribs that attach to the thoracic region of your spine. The ribs are there to protect your heart, lungs, and other vital organs. Each rib is shaped much like a bucket handle, arching from your spine to your breastbone (sternum) at the front of your chest. Your ribs don’t just stay in one place, they are made to move. Every time you breathe, bend, twist, and reach, your ribs are moving freely and adjusting to allow for your lungs to expand or your torso to bend and turn. When one of your ribs becomes restricted or slightly malpositioned from your spine, it can cause difficulty and pain with every breath or movement. You may have heard this called a stuck rib, which makes sense because it feels like the rib can not move. The medical term for this injury is called costovertebral dysfunction. 


How does rib pain start?

Rib restrictions and malpositions can happen in multiple ways. Sometimes there may be an obvious trauma and moment when symptoms began, and other times patients might not be able to recall any specific event that could have been the cause. While car accidents and sports injuries are easy ways to get a costovertebral dysfunction, these injuries can also occur following a sudden or explosive movement, like coughing or sneezing, reaching, pushing, or pulling. Rib malpositions are also common during pregnancy, which can be caused by the growing fetus, or when the baby kicks and moves.



Rib dysfunction may cause pain near or slightly to the side of your spine with possible radiation along your rib, sometimes all the way to the front of your chest. Rib problems are a frequently overlooked source of abdominal and chest pain.

  • Pain near the spine
  • Pain when breathing, coughing, sneezing or laughing
  • Difficulty reaching or twisting
  • Radiating pain along your rib  
  • Pain all the way to the chest.  
  • Feeling like you have been “shot by an arrow” with pain shooting from your back to your chest.


Treatment for rib pain:

We know how painful rib problems can be, and how they can interfere with your daily life. Luckily, we have several approaches and tools to help ease your pain. And, with rib pain, most patients report rapid relief after receiving our chiropractic care.


A few tips for rib pain: 

To speed your recovery, you should avoid activities that increase your pain. Initially, you may need to limit reaching, pushing, and pulling. Women may benefit by temporarily switching to a sports bra to help better diffuse pressure over irritated ribs. Some patients have found additional relief by using sports creams, NSAIDs, or applying ice for 15-20 minutes directly over the painful area.



Be sure to tell your chiropractor if your symptoms include any unusual cough, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, fever, flu-like complaints or if you notice a rash developing along the border of your rib. Seek immediate medical treatment if you notice chest “pressure” or “squeezing”, symptoms that radiate into your arm and jaw, or if you have chest pain or shortness of breath with exertion, as these are possible symptoms of heart problems and must be addressed immediately.


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