The rib cage is made up of 12 pairs of ribs and supports the upper body while protecting the body’s vital organs, including the heart, lungs and blood vessels. The ribs attach to the spine and curve around to the front: seven pairs attach to the breast bone, three pairs attach to cartilage and two sets are called floating ribs.

Injuries to your rib cage are more common than you may believe. The most common injury is caused by a blunt force from a fall, tackle or an object like a ball. The elderly are very prone to rib-cage injuries because the bones and cartilage tend to become more fragile and brittle as we age.

The types of rib injuries you may experience can be a bruise, torn cartilage or fracture. Severe trauma to the rib cage can be life threatening, such as a punctured lung and torn blood vessel. This happened to Drew Bledsoe, the former quarterback of the New England Patriots. He was tackled in a game, causing a tear to a major blood vessel in the chest. This gave Tom Brady a chance to start as quarterback, leading the Patriots to a Super Bowl victory.

The symptom most athletes experience is pain at the site of the injury. Movement of the ribs will increase the pain, as well as laughing, coughing and sneezing. Taking a deep breath can also aggravate the pain. There also can be a grinding or crunching noise.

To properly evaluate the ribs, a thorough history of how the injury happened is essential. This will give the health care provider an idea of the severity of the injury. A physical examination also is required and X-rays may be needed if a fracture is suspected.

Not too long ago I was having lunch with a friend who is an attorney. He and I play tennis, and he is also an avid skier. He started telling me about his daughter, a teenager and an excellent athlete who has been in a ski racing program. He told me she had a fall racing the previous year and had another fall three months ago, landing very hard on her right-upper back.

Her parents brought her to my office for evaluation. She is having chronic pain in the middle of her back and into her right shoulder blade area, with some discomfort in her chest. She also has tingling down her right arm and her last two fingers. Her pain is aggravated when she is bent over studying. Her treatment to date only provided temporary relief.

Our examination found a healthy, fit female athlete. There was muscle spasm and tenderness to the touch in the space between her spine and shoulder blade where her ribs attach to her spine. There also was muscle spasm in her neck. She also had soreness along her breast bone where her rib connects.

I told her parents she had a rib strain and misalignment of the ribs at the attachment of the spine and breast bone and her neck. This made sense to her parents, and I recommended manual manipulation and adjustments to her spine and rib attachments. She was given specific stretching to do at home to enhance the care she was getting at our office. She was very compliant.

This young lady responded remarkable well to our care. Within two weeks she was able to resume her training and sit comfortably in school.

 

Dr. Robert Lynch is a former president of the Maine Chiropractic Association and head of the Lynch Chiropractic Center in South Portland. “Staying in the Game” appears every other Thursday in the Press Herald.