Dr. Caitlin Parker from Oak Tree Osteopathy addresses the common questions

At Oak Tree Osteopathy in Canterbury, we see people every day who come into the clinic complaining of neck, upper back or shoulder pain. They will describe it as catching, sore to turn their neck, or sharp to take a deep breath. Often though, they are not aware that it is their ribs that are causing the pain. 

In the clinic, when we point to the 1st ribs on our friendly skeleton, everyone is always amazed at how high they sit. You can feel them by putting your fingers on your trap muscles right next to your neck and feeling the hard resistance that sits just beneath the muscle.

Understanding where your ribs are and what they do!

Ribs move every time we take a breath in or out. They move every time we bend or twist our back or neck. They even move when reaching out with our arms. We are always breathing and therefore our ribs are always moving! 

We have twelve pairs of ribs which connect to our twelve thoracic vertebrae at the back and the sternum, via the costal cartilage, at the front. These bones form our thoracic cage and protect some of our vital organs. Our thoracic cage supports our shoulder blades and in turn our shoulder joints. There are many muscles that connect all of these bones to each other.

Because there are so many joints and muscle connections that make up this thoracic cage and they have to do so many movements, it is common for one of the many joints to become restricted. 

All of these joints need to be moving well so that they can allow for good movement in the others, which is why rib pain can be misdiagnosed as a shoulder problem or even a problem with the spine itself. 

What does rib pain feel like?

A 1st rib restriction can feel like pain at the bottom of your neck. It can feel sharp when you turn your head. Restriction in the mid ribs can feel like sharp mid back pain that can spread behind you shoulder blade or even right around to the front of the chest. It can often be described as feeling like a knife stabbing behind your shoulder blade. Sometimes it will feel difficult or painful to take a full, deep breath. 

Patient holding neck in pain

Neck pain can originate from your ribs

Some of the conditions that may affect the ribs 

  • Repetitive strain injury from poor posture leading to restricted movement
  • Costochondritis, which is an inflammation of the rib cartilage, at the front of our chests 
  • Rib dislocation from a sport or motor vehicle injury  
  • Fractures from trauma or weakness such as osteoporosis.

One really interesting fact about ribs that not many people know is that within the rib bones is one of the sites where red blood cells are made! 

What can Osteopaths do to help? 

Mason Webb treating rib pain

Osteopathic treatment of rib pain

For your back and neck to move well without pain, your ribs need to be moving well also! Your osteo will assess the movement of your ribs by watching you move your neck, back and shoulders and by feeling your ribs as you breathe in and out. They may also feel up under your ribs to assess your large diaphragm muscle.

To get the ribs moving well we will release the muscles around the ribs and do some gentle stretching and movement to the joints of the ribs. Because the ribs attach directly to the thoracic spine we also need to make sure that the spine is moving well. 

Once your rib joints are freely moving and are pain free, we will often suggest some exercises to strengthen and support the ribs to prevent them from causing you trouble in the future.

Are your ribs causing your neck, back or shoulder pain?

If you think that a restriction in your ribs might be the cause of your pain, you can click through to book online to see one of the Osteopaths at Oak Tree Osteopathy. 

Breathe easier and improve the way your body feels and moves!