Chiropractic and Ribs

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on June 6th, 2013)

Chiropractors can adjust any movable joint in the body but the one that people seem to always be surprised at is a rib adjustment. It turns out that most people think that ribs are immobile bones that only protect the chest but there is so much more to them than that.

Ribs to function to protect the organs of the chest and stabilize the thoracic spine but they also play an important role in how we breathe. Our lungs are not muscular organs and so cannot draw air into themselves. It is the responsibility of the diaphragm and the ribs to do this. The diaphragm descends into the abdomen which pushes the ribs out and up in what is referred to as a “bucket handle” motion. This expansion of the chest pulls the lungs out in every direction drawing air in. Relaxing the diaphragm lets the ribs descend and the elasticity of the lungs pushes the air out again.

The ribs are attached to the spine at the back and the sternum in the front. At the spine, the ribs form a joint with the vertebrae which is surrounded but many little muscles. The joint between the ribs and the sternum at the front is slightly more ridged. The ribs end just short of the edge of the sternum and cartilage fills that gap. This does allow some movement as the cartilage is supple and flexible. With these joints as they are the ribs are able to move well and aid in breathing while providing the boney protection to our heart and lungs.

This is, of course, if we are treating our body correctly, which most of us are not. As a society our posture is terrible. We slouch forwards which does not allow out diaphragm to descend as well. This forces us to compensate and use the muscles of the back and shoulders to pull the ribs up to expand our lungs rather than letting them be pushed up by expanding our abdomen. As it happens in all cases of muscular compensation this puts a strain on muscles they were not meant to take. This leads to muscular spasms and pain as well as joint dysfunction in the areas of the spasm. So all these muscles clamping down and holding everything tightly means that the ribs will not be able move properly and hinder breathing. This can be quite uncomfortable and even make breathing painful.

Muscular spasm and improper movement of the ribs will eventually pull the ribs “out” which is not to say that our ribs will fall off but that they will stick out from where they should be. This is not a dislocation but it is a misalignment which can be corrected through adjustment. The adjustment will help to relax the spasm of the muscles, restore proper movement of the rib, and help to improve breathing.

This type of dysfunction is incredibly common and is so simple to reverse. Adjustments paired with postural exercise can restore full breathing capacity and maintain it. This is especially important for people who have difficulty breathing with conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and even smokers.

So make sure your ribs are moving and breathe the fresh air this summer.

Thanks for reading.
Dr. Ben

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