Shortness of Breath…Can this be caused by a Slipped Rib?

Shortness of Breath…Can this be caused by a Slipped Rib?

Shortness of Breath…Can Shortness of Breath be caused by a Slipped Rib?

The simple answer is YES.  However, shortness of breath can be caused by more serious conditions.  These conditions require immediate medical attention.

Shortness of breath that comes on suddenly (called acute) has a limited number of causes, including:

  1. Asthma (bronchospasm)
  2. Carbon monoxide poisoning
  3. Cardiac tamponade (excess fluid around the heart)
  4. Heart attack
  5. Heart failure
  6. Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  7. Pulmonary embolism (blood clot in an artery in the lung)
  8. Pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
  9. Pneumonia (pulmonary infection)
  10. Sudden blood loss
  11. Upper airway obstruction (blockage in the breathing passage)

In the case of shortness of breath that has lasted for weeks or longer (called chronic), the condition is most often due to:

  1. Asthma
  2. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  3. Deconditioning
  4. Heart dysfunction
  5. Interstitial lung disease
  6. Obesity

Although very painful, slipped rib syndrome is usually NOT a serious condition.  It does, however, require special attention and treatment(s).  The assessment and treatment should take place as soon as possible to prevent delay in recovery. 

So why slipped rib syndrome cause “shortness of breath” or DECREASE in taking a FULL BREATH?  

In order to understand this, lets discuss some anatomy first. Slipped rib syndrome was first described in the early 1900’s.  Cases have been reported in children as young as 12 years and much higher in females than males.  We have 2 sets of 12 ribs which create the rib cage.  The ribs attach to each thoracic vertebrae in the back.

Slipped rib syndrome location

Costovertebral Joints (Red Circles)

Sometimes the ligament connection (called costovertebral/costotransverse ligaments) linking the vertebrae of the back and the rib can cause symptoms and discomfort.  If this connection is slightly lax or loose, it may cause something known as hypermobility.  Let’s break up this word – hyper – and – mobile.  Hyper meaning excessive or beyond.  Mobile meaning capable of moving or being moved. Hypermobility may result in stretching of the ligament, misplacement of the bones, and thus an irritation in the back over the attachment location.  Sometimes the nerve in the area can become irritated from this stretching and as a result sends a sharp pain around the torso from the back to the front.  Furthermore, the muscles around the area become taut and irritable as well.   Hope I did not lose you!  If I have, think of it this way…your rib and vertebrae bones are connected together by a ligament (in this case, think of the ligament as an elastic band).  If the elastic band stretches too much, it may cause the bones to shift out of there normal alignment.  If the bones shift, they feel out-of-place and thus cause our body discomfort.  Hope this explanation makes things more clearer.  If the rib is not functioning optimally or creates pain due to ligament stretch, breathing patterns can also be altered.  Sometimes this alteration can lead to shortness of breath or the feeling of not being able to take a deep breath without discomfort.  

How do I treat a slipped rib?

Slipped ribs can be treated by various techniques.  One technique is to relax the musculature with heat, interferential current (electromodality that assists in pain reduction), acupuncture, and registered massage therapy.  These techniques will assist in realigning the rib(s) and vertebrae.  A second technique is to adjust the rib(s).  This will also assist in realigning the rib and vertebrae into a ‘normal’ or more comfortable position.

What is an adjustment?

The Ontario Chiropractic Association defines an adjustment as a highly skilled and precise movement usually applied by hand to a joint of the body.  Adjustment loosens the joint to restore proper movement and optimize function. When a joint is adjusted, a gas bubble escapes causing the popping noise you may have heard about. Chiropractic adjustment techniques have been researched extensively. Complications are rare and side-effects, such as temporary soreness, are usually minor.    

How is a slipped rib adjusted by a Chiropractor?

One technique is to have the patient lie on his/her stomach on a chiropractic table.  The adjustment is applied by the chiropractor to the area where the slipped rib(s) is/are irritated.  The adjustment to the area is very quick.  Following the adjustment, the patient usually knows whether or not that rib(s) is/are still irritating them.  Most of the time the pain goes away.  Sometimes, the muscles around the slipped rib remain tender to the touch.  Another techniques is to have the patient sit at the end of the chiropractic table.  The patient sits facing away from the table.  The patient is lowered onto the table and will usually feel the pop or click once he/she reaches the table.  Trained Chiropractors and other trained practitioners can perform this rib adjustment procedure in various ways.  Always consult a trained health practitioner when contemplating treatment.

What exercises should I try if I have a Slipped Rib?

From my experience, a combination of techniques, modalities (IFC, Cryotherapy, He

Wall angels for Slipped rib syndrome

Wall angels for Slipped rib syndrome

at Therapy), registered massage therapy and adjustment, work extremely well to help with the discomfort of a slipped rib. Furthermore, I find that adding mid back strengthening exercises (such as wall angel exercises) to the mix, helps to prevent future episodes of slipped rib syndrome.


Please note that I have NOT exhausted and discussed all the options for dealing with a slipped rib.  I have only touched on a few that I find work for my patient’s.  Do your  own research and if you have any questions, please send them along and I will do my best to address them.  Look forward to comments.

Hope you found this information on the slipped rib syndrome interesting. To make an appointment to see Dr. Luciano Di Loreto, please contact the office at 647.873.4490. 

Dr. Luciano Di Loreto, HBSc., D.C. & Associates

Chiropractor & Acupuncture Provider

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The following information is my personal notes about this subject matter. It is intended for informational purposes only. Consult a health practitioner to help you diagnose and treat injuries of any kind.

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Dr. Luciano Di Loreto