Rib Dislocation vs. Separation

Instructor: Joshua Bowles

Joshua is a Sports Medicine and Athletic Training Instructor and has a Master's degree in Kinesiology.

In this lesson we will discuss the anatomy of the ribs including three different classifications of the ribs. We will also take a look at two injury conditions that occur with the ribs: dislocations and separations.

Rib Anatomy

In the human body there are typically 24 ribs that make up the rib cage. The rib cage is a protective structure that forms a literal cage around the organs of the thoracic cavity which include the lungs, heart and diaphragm. There are three categories of classified ribs: true ribs, false ribs, and floating ribs. True ribs include the first through the seventh ribs that make a connection with the breastbone, known as the sternum. False ribs include the seventh through the twelfth ribs, which are called false ribs because they do not connect directly to the sternum. Instead, these are connected to a type of connective tissue known as cartilage, which attaches the rib to the sternum. This specific cartilage is called costal cartilage and plays a vital role in rib injuries that we will discuss later. Floating ribs refer only to the eleventh and twelfth ribs due to their sole connection point being the vertebral column, giving the appearance that they are floating. These two ribs are not connected to the costal cartilage.

Human rib cage and cartilage
Human rib cage

Rib Injuries

The most common injury that occurs to the ribs are contusions, which is the medical term for a bruise, or fractures, which is a break or crack in the bone. Both rib contusions and fractures are common in contact injuries, for example from sports or even a motor vehicle accident. Both of these injuries also exhibit the same symptoms of pain and loss of movement. It can be difficult to differentiate between these two unless an x-ray is taken.

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