Image of a dislocated rib

Can your rib actually “pop out” – A Guide To A Dislocated Rib

Generally speaking, medicine can’t explain a dislocated rib! There is also the problem of different terminology medical specialist use to describe this injury. The best way to explain it would be an instance where one of the ribs (commonly floating ribs – 11th and 12th) slips out of its normal position.

The Difference/Similarities Between Broken Rib And A Rib That Is Dislocated

There is a huge difference between broken rib and a dislocated rib, although they have similar symptoms.
When you have broken rib one of the bones of the thoracic cage is cracked, it can be caused by some traumas or car accidents.

Dislocated rib, on the other hand, is not an as severe injury but you will most definitely feel it! Here, the bone is preserved in its entirety, but it slips out of its original joint socket.

How Does It Feel?


Dislocated rib is manifested by a sharp pain in the chest, a pain that goes along with bruising and swelling. You might also experience difficulty when breathing.

Of course, there are instances where the actual rib is still in its socket, so why does it hurt? Here is something you should know about our joints:

Human Joint Anatomy

The joint is the area where the two bones meet and allow them to move. Joint consists of:

  • Bones
  • Cartilage
  • Synovial membrane
  • Ligaments
  • Tendons
  • Bursas
  • Synovial fluid

As you can see, any of these structures can get damaged and cause pain. In most cases, tendons and muscles surrounding the costovertebral or costochondral joint itself get injured and cause problems without the rib being subluxated.

Of course, you are not a medical professional and cannot know exactly what is going on, so if you spot any of the symptoms we will list below, get a doctor to check you up.

Causes Of A Rib Dislocation

The occurrence of dislocated rib is evenly spread out between men and women; patients also come from every possible walk of life – sports, truck driving, construction jobs, stay-at-home mums, etc…

There is, however, a correlation between age and the incidence of athis injury: older people are much more prone to this type of injury. Why? Well, the answer is simple really, younger individuals are much more elastic and have healthier well-lubricated joints.

This doesn’t mean no younger people are dealing with a dislocated rib, these injuries are common because they engage in contact sports such as boxing, wrestling, basketball, football, other martial arts, etc.
Other common symptoms include:

  • Gymlifting heavy weights in the gym can cause this injury, especially if you don’t warm up prior exercising (which most people don’t)
  • Swimmingthough this is a fantastic full-body workout, swimming can sometimes lead to a dislocated rib because of the particular movement is involved in swimming
  • Heavy liftingyou can dislocate your rib when moving furniture… or moving pretty much any heavy object. This is because people don’t use their legs to lift heavy objects, they use their back. “Lifting with your back” can lead to some serious injuries so always use proper form
  • Coughing and sneezingbenign activities know to have caused a rib to pop out
  • Pregnancychanges in hormones that lead to weakening in the joint and lead to a rib popping out
  • Existing conditionspeople with scoliosis, for example, are more prone to a dislocated rib. Also, if the patient’s body is weak for any number of reasons, a rib can pop out of its socket on its own

As you can see, a rib dislocation can be caused by some various factors but it is important to get a medical professional to address it, here is why: a “free roaming” rib can damage surrounding tissue or lead to and infection and prolong your recovery process.

Most Common Symptoms

We already said that sharp pain is the main symptom of a dislocated rib, but the intensity of pain depends on which rib is injured, and so you can feel the pain in your chest or your back. Pain from a rib that is dislocated is different from the other injuries, this kind of pain will not go away by himself. The pain is getting worse every day, and the medical help is necessary.

Here are the main symptoms:

  • Breathing difficultythe dislocated rib can cause heavy breathing, especially when you are laying on your back. This pain can be paralysing, and it is felt every time you move your body
  • A lumpyou may notice a lump on one of your ribs which look like a little ball, underneath your fingers. You may also feel elevated local temperature due to an inflammation of your rib cartilage
  • Pain when coughing and sneezingthis, of course, goes without saying but the intensity of the pain is vigorous. Some patients even describe it as if a knife is going through their chest

What To Do When The Pain Strikes – First Aid


Before you even get to your doctor, there are a few thing you can do to help yourself cope with the pain, reduce its intensity and make it more bearable.

First on the list is rest and ice! The moment you start experiencing this type of pain, you should lay down, try to move as little as possible (this goes for breathing as well, take shallow breaths) and apply ice directly to the injured area. NOTE: when using ice, make sure you wrap it in a cloth, direct contact between ice and skin is not recommended.

Next, over-the-counter medication. The goal with this drug is to reduce the pain. Most patients use ibuprofen (those without heart problems), while some others may use acetaminophen.

Getting someone to massage you might be a good idea but I am hesitant when recommending it to people because if you find someone who doesn’t know what they are doing, they might make matters worse. And if you do decide to let someone massage you, tell them to stop as soon as you feel pain.

Important: if you’ve dislocated your rib, you should eat a little, or at least drink a glass of milk before taking ibuprofen because it can irritate the lining of your stomach. Of course, you should not stuff yourself, but just get a little food to protect your stomach.

Most Important: DO NOT try to pop your rib back into its place! Besides being extremely painful, it can also be dangerous since you can damage the surrounding tissue.

When To See A Doctor

Image of a radiologist reaching
Short answer: immediately! The pain will probably not go away on its own and professional help is necessary.

The doctor will first do a palpation inspection, feel the area using his fingers, to make sure the rib is really out of its socket. Next, he might order an X-ray or/and an MRI just to see exactly what is going on with the bones and the surrounding soft tissue.

In some cases, the doctor will attempt to “put” the rib back into its socket… And this will hurt. Another option is to let it heal on its own over time. If this is the course your doctor decided to take, you will get a bandage on your chest, to make sure your rib and rib cage is fixed, aligned properly and that the healing process can begin.

You will also be given pain-killing medication to reduce the pain until the rib heals completely.

In some rare cases, your rib might require surgery. These are the cases where the rib has already damaged some surrounding tissues or slipped into the spinal canal. But these cases are extremely rare.

How Long Will Your Dislocated Rib Take To Fully Heal

Recovery period with this type of injury is not very long. In most of the cases, the patient is fully recovered within 4-7 weeks; it depends on injury sometimes recovery process lasts 8-9 months.

Here are some tips to speed up your recovery process:

  • First few days after the injury you should not do a thing, just lay down, relax and assume the proper healing position
  • After a couple of days, you will feel better, but the pain and swelling might still be present. You can apply a cold compress but make sure to limit the time to 10-15 minutes. Otherwise, you might risk getting pneumonia
  • Exercise is always good but make sure you do it in moderation. Don’t strain yourself, and if you start experiencing pain, stop immediately
  • Eating a healthy diet might help your body heal itself faster, so it would be a good idea to pay a little more attention to what you eat

– Image 1 source: Mayoclinic.org
Last updated: May 1, 2017 at 9:17 am

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