Recovering from a rib injury, whether cracked, broken, or strained, can take many painful months. A patient also becomes misaligned due to overcompensating for the injured region. This can lead to other kinds of referred pain in the back, legs, arms, chest, neck, and other muscles. Chiropractic treatment could alleviate some of these difficulties. Broken ribs can be caused by car accidents, falls, sports, or even prolonged periods of coughing. Traditional medical treatment for broken ribs used to be taping the injured area, with compression wraps, and pain medications. Over time, doctors stopped taping the ribs, due to the risk of pneumonia. If a patient cannot breathe properly, the lungs could retain fluid. Doctors still use “Over-the-counter drugs…stronger pain medications…(or) Nerve blocks…long-lasting anesthesia around the nerves” to manage a patient’s pain in order to help them breathe in and out completely.1
Chiropractic Treatment of Rib Pain
Rib pain can be severe enough to feel like a heart attack, and it is a stabbing pain. Causes of rib pain can include “costochondritis, intercostal neuritis, (or) costo-transverse sprain”. Costrochondritis is inflamed rib cartilage and intercostal neuritis is an “inflammation of the nerve between the ribs”. Costo-transverse sprain is the most common rib pain, often something a person finds from “sleeping in an awkward position”. Rib pain is acute and responds quickly in a few chiropractic treatments. The people most at risk of chronic rib pain are those with: “poor thoracic core muscles, increased thoracic curvature (kyphosis), sedentary occupations, women with large breasts, people who carry loads for prolonged times, and in scoliosis of the mid-back”. Some medical conditions can also cause rib pain. Chiropractors use a variety of treatments “to restore the movement, reduce pain and reduce the muscle spasm”.2
Chiropractic Treatment of Broken Ribs
If a patient receives sufficient rest and icing after breaking a rib, chiropractors can provide adjustments with “specific soft tissue work around the affected rib”, according to Dr. Brendon O’Brien D.C.3 Rib pain can be caused by “subluxations… where the vertebrae of the thoracic spine become statically misaligned…resulting in pain, muscle spasm, and sometime nerve malfunction.” A chiropractor may perform an X-ray to check for injuries, and they may also check for osteoporosis (a condition which can lead to additional fractures). Treatments can include low-level laser therapy (LLLT), to assist with treating inflammation, or electronic muscle stimulation. The latter can help strains and spasms. By aligning the body properly and allowing it to move more freely, it can more effectively heal itself.4 treating the underlying causes of the pain is how chiropractic care differs from the traditionally medical approach of recommending pain medication.
Massage Therapy Is Another Option
Both rib pain and broken ribs may be treated if the patient seeks massage therapy. Rib pain could be caused by issues by the muscles, joints, or ribs themselves. Fixated ribs and intervertebral joints are two common culprits of injury in the ribs. Examination can find that hypertonic knots in the lamina groove are indicative of joint dysfunction. Hyperextension of the head, neck, and shoulders will create a jam that could lead to degradation of the tissue, splintering in the protective muscles, and osteoligamentous canal pain. This condition is treated with the patient lying on their side with one arm behind the back. Just pushing on knots will not necessarily treat trigger points or muscle adhesions, instead making the situation worse with the downward pressure put on joints that were already chronically locked. A trained massage therapist will know when it is safe to apply pressure and manipulate different bones and joints. The masseuse must evaluate the situation in order to understand the cause and physical effects of the rib pain.5 Massage therapy may also help treat the effects of cracked ribs. While the initial, acute injury and beginning of recovery could be hindered or damaged by massage therapy performed directly on the broken ribs, the therapist can still provide relief. The body often overcompensates for injuries, sometimes unknowingly, causing other pain and stiffness which the masseuse can relieve and release. After the ribs have been allowed to heal for several weeks, a well-trained and mindful massage therapist can assist with the healing process. Cracks in the ribs aggravate and tighten the surrounding muscle, causing them to contract and pull at the edges of the bone, widening the crack. The therapist will work to relax the irritated muscles so that the pieces of the bone are allowed to put themselves back together. This assists the body to heal itself without interference and literally allows the patient to breathe easier. At the end of the day, it is the patient’s body itself that will do most of the healing.6 Massage therapists and chiropractors just ease the pain and allow the body to do its own work.