Dislocated Rib (Slipping Rib): Causes, Coughing, Fixing & Self Treatment

A dislocated rib is a fairly common occurrence, although it is very painful. It occurs when one end of the rib slips from the socket that connects it to your breastbone or spine. Dislocated ribs are also referred to as rib separations, and mainly occur when you suffer physical trauma, e.g., from a sports-related injury or an accident.

Can you dislocate a rib?

Yes, you can. A rib separation of the dislocated rib may be caused by various factors such as blunt force to your chest area or from a persistent cough. The dislocations are not as rare as many people would like to assume.

In addition to dislocating your rib, you could also experience other injuries such as a separation. The separation normally occurs when your rib head and its adjoining bones are separated from your spinal cord or sternum. This kind of injuries can occur to anyone, young or old, man or woman.

Dislocated rib causes, symptoms and how to treat yourself
Rib Dislocation

Symptoms of a Dislocated Rib

One of the classic symptoms associated with this condition includes experiencing pain under your rib cage. The severity of this pain will be determined by the particular ribcage that has been affected.

You, could, therefore, experience radiating pain under your right rib or under the left rib. But either way, it will be best to ensure that you are checked out by a medical expert as soon as possible to rule out any other injuries.

Additionally, when you have a dislocated rib, there is a possibility that any movement you make could irritate your nerves, and this would end up putting a strain on certain muscles that are in the affected region. The end result will be that the area will be swollen, and you will be in a lot of pain.

Some of the symptoms to be on the lookout for will include:

  • A floating rib
  • You will experience difficulties breathing properly
  • Back pain
  • Clicking or popping sounds
  • Abdominal pain that comes and goes
  • Sharp abdominal pain

You can expect to experience intense pain whenever you attempt to undertake activities that may require you to move the rib cage.

Activities that can cause this type of pain include, rolling in your bed, lifting or bending, trying to get up from a seating position, coughing or inhaling deeply, going up the stairs, and stretching.

Often, a dislocated rib will occur on one side, but it is not impossible for both sides to be affected.

Causes of Rid Dislocation

A dislocated rib can be brought about by many factors including sneezing, coughing, and chest or arm movements. Chest movements normally cause your ribs to move about in the joint where they meet with the vertebrae, which is located at the back. Every once in a while, your ribs will end up being stuck and this will cause you to experience pain and discomfort.

Rib Slipping picture
Rib Slipping

There are many muscles in your body which can be able to pull on the ribs causing them to become dislocated. Examples include rib muscles, e.g., intercostal muscles, and the low back muscles that include the quadratus lumborum.

Common causes of rib dislocation include:

Extreme coughing or sneezing

Whenever your body is unwell, your muscles tend to become debilitated. This is because all the energy in the body is being diverted towards ensuring that you recover as soon as possible. As such, extreme sneezing or coughing can introduce additional strain to the rib cage.


Whenever a pregnant woman is close to her due date, more weight is added to the front part of her body. This additional weight ends up pulling her ribcages lower. Due to the extra strain, there is a possibility that the woman’s ribs may become dislocated.

Poor posture

People who maintain poor postures when seated or when standing tend to be at an increased risk of developing a rib dislocation. This is because more weight ends up being placed on the back of their ribs, causing them to start slipping.

Working out/ exercising

Many workout regimens involve the use of arms when stretching or when lifting weights. Performing a lot of work with the arms being placed in front of you means that they are likely to be moved out of their normal position, enhancing the chances of a dislocation.

What are the risk factors for a dislocated rib?


Elderly people who may be suffering from a degenerative disease may be more prone to cartilage injuries after a rapid movement of their chest or after falling down.

Chronic smoking

Individuals who have a long history of smoking often tend to have persistent coughs. These are people who may, in turn, end up suffering from a condition known as persistent forceful smokers a cough. As they grow older, this persistent coughs could cause their rib cartilages to come apart when they are coughing.


Sports activities, such as volleyball and tennis often expose the players to the risk of sustaining injuries to their ribs. Weightlifting exercises also place one at a risk of dislocating their ribs.

Failure to wear a seat belt

Whenever you are traveling in a motor vehicle, you are always at an increased risk of sustaining a rib dislocation if you get involved in an accident, and you happen not to be wearing a seatbelt.

A dislocated rib can be diagnosed in either of the following ways:

  • Bone scan
  • MRI examination and CT scan
  • Chest X-ray

Can a dislocated rib cartilage be fixed?

It is possible to fix a dislocated rib cartilage. This can be done using physical therapy or by taking pain medication.

Physical therapy

  • Many people with dislocated ribs are not able to tolerate physical therapy when dealing with the initial pain phase
  • Physical therapy is recommended as it assists in strengthening your intercostal muscles
  • It is recommended that one starts physical therapy after six to eight weeks have passed since they got the dislocation.
  • Your physician may recommend an intercostal nerve block which would be performed using corticosteroids. The aim of administering this would be to contain the inflammation and discomfort being experienced.
  • Normally, the treating physician will start by trying three injections. If this is adequate, and contains the pain for between four and six weeks, follow up injections can then be tried after a period of six weeks.

Self-relief and treatment

Treatment for a dislocated rib comes in varying forms and ranges from taking pain medication to taking part in different kinds of exercises. You can try the following after dislocating your rib:

Anti-inflammatory drugs

A person with a dislocated rib is likely to be in a lot of pain and discomfort due to the dislocation, and accompanying inflammation, hence the need to take the anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are the preferred choice when dealing with a dislocation).

Chiropractic treatment

The treatment methods employed by chiropractors have been known to assist in restoring separated, slipped, or dislocated ribs back to their former positions.

Chiropractors are able to do this by manipulating the spine. Additional manipulation methods can also be employed together with massage to help achieve this objective.

Physical therapy

This is one of the most useful methods for treating a dislocated rib. The patient will be taken through a number of techniques that are aimed at strengthening the muscles responsible for holding your ribs in place.

When used to deal with dislocated ribs, it involves engaging in activities such as segmental breathing. It is a technique used to assist a dislocated rib to go back to its initial position.

You may also find yourself performing seated rotation exercises, stretching exercises, compression exercises, and alternative expansion exercises. This will assist in quickly healing your affected rib.

Changing your lifestyle

Altering your lifestyle could also be instrumental in helping you deal with this problem. You need to incorporate activities that are momentary and mild.

This will require you to stay away from activities that could be too stressful, e.g., coughing and laughing too hard.

You also need to ensure that your body is supplied with the right amounts of nutrients as you concentrate to enhance your muscle strength in a bid to make sure that the ribs will not fall again.


This is considered a last resort and is only applied in extreme cases. It works by physically manipulating the ribs to resume their initial position.

Home remedies

Although this condition does not have many activities that could be performed at home to help you recover, you could still attempt to exercise on a regular basis. You can do this by employing the same technics used by your chiropractor to try and push the ribs back to their original position.

How long does recovery take?

It normally takes between three and four months for one to completely heal from a dislocated rib. The reason for this is because your cartilage is not getting enough blood supply.

You also have to make sure that you do not take part in any activities that could be strenuous to the affected region. Be sure to get adequate rest as well and you will find yourself healing up faster than you may have anticipated.


  • Pramod Kerkar. Dislocated Rib: causes, symptoms, treatment, and exercises


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