I adjust a lot of ribs every single day. The symptoms that result from a misaligned rib can be shortness of breath, sharp muscle spasms, intense dull muscle aches, and overall misery. Many patients have described the feeling of having a heart attack when their rib(s) misalign on the left side of their chest. They each realize they don’t have a more serious condition after I adjust their rib(s) and they can breathe a sigh of relief. But it sure felt like it!
Each of us has 24 ribs—12 on each side of our rib cage. The first seven ribs are called true ribs, and they attach to the sternum in the front by cartilage called costal cartilage. Of the bottom five ribs, called false ribs, the first three have their costal cartilage connected to the cartilage above them. The last two ribs, the floating ribs, have their cartilage ending in the muscle in the abdominal wall. All 12 ribs on either side of the rib cage connect to the vertebrae in the back.
Between each rib are muscles called intercostal muscles and a networks of nerves called intercostal nerves. When a rib misaligns, not only does it misalign in the back where it connects to the vertebra—the entire rib misaligns, including in the front where the costal cartilage connects to the sternum (which can sometimes result in a painful inflammatory condition called costochondritis). A rib misalignment stretches the intercostal muscles taut, which then compresses the intercostal nerves threaded through those thin muscle fibers. The end result is a lot of PAIN.
When I was chiropractic school, I was doing a set of dips at the end of a workout and the entire left side of my chest spasmed and sharp lightning engulfed the whole left side of my torso. I truly panicked and thought I was having a heart attack. Later, when a knowledgeable friend of mine from class came over to adjust me, she pointed out that I had misaligned ribs. She adjusted me, and that sharp, breath-stealing pain was gone. I was sore for a few days from the spasmed muscles, but it sure beat the pain of suddenly misaligned ribs. I’ll still have a rib misalign from time to time, but nothing like that.
Most people have never of a misaligned rib when I mention it to them for the first time. It’s not a commonly talked about condition, especially outside of chiropractic (and sometimes not even then!), but it is very common, and something I see on not only a daily basis, but an hourly basis day in and day out.
If you’re having pain like the kind I described above, don’t try to tough it out and suffer through it. The pain of misaligned ribs can mimic a lot of other symptoms or conditions, and the anxiety alone of a serious health condition can be enough to really affect your mental health, especially when you go from doctor to doctor and have X-rays and MRIs done and no one can find anything wrong with you.