Costovertebral Dysfunction

You have 12 pair of ribs that attach to the “thoracic” region of your spine.  The ribs serve to protect your heart, lungs, and other vital organs.  Each rib moves much like a “bucket handle” arching from your spine to your breastbone (sternum) in front.  Your ribs must move freely when you breathe, bend, twist, and reach.  The term “costovertebral dysfunction” means that one of your ribs has become stuck or slightly malpositioned from its attachment to the spine.  You can visualize this by imagining one of your bucket handles is misaligned and not moving in sync with the others.

costovertebral dysfunction

Costovertebral dysfunction is a common source of chest and abdominal pain.

Rib problems can develop in many ways.  Sometimes they are brought on by an accident or injury.  Other times, they develop from repetitive strains or poor posture.  Costovertebral dysfunction are common during pregnancy or after a whiplash injury.

Symptoms sometimes begin following a sudden or explosive movement, like coughing, sneezing, reaching, pushing, or pulling.  Other times, you cannot remember any specific event that started the pain.  Rib dysfunction may cause pain near or slightly to the side of your spine with possible radiation of symptoms along your rib.  Sometimes the pain radiates all the way to the chest.  Some patients feel as though they were “shot by an arrow” with pain shooting from the back to the chest.

Be sure to tell your chiropractor if your symptoms include any unusual cough, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, fever, or flu-like complaints.  Also, be aware of any rash developing on the skin of your trunk. These symptoms are important for an accurate diagnosis.

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.  Having any of these symptoms of a heart problem is a medical emergency requiring urgent evaluation.

Chiropractic care for rib pain is safe and effective.

Most patients report rapid relief following chiropractic care, which may involve chiropractic adjustments, manual therapy, and corrective exercise.  Our office can provide several tools to help ease your 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 report relief by using sports creams, NSAIDs, or applying ice for 15-20 minutes directly over the painful area.

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