Living in Greenville and curious about the ribs and breathing anatomy? The purpose of the rib cage is to be the attachment for our respiratory muscles in order to aid in breathing, as well as, serve as aprotective shield for the vital organs (the heart, lunges, and major blood vessels). To achieve these purposes, the rib cage is composed of 12 ribs. Each rib connects between each of the 12 thoracic vertebral bodies. For example, rib 5 connects between the thoracic vertebrae 5 and 6 bodies. To understand the spine & vertebrae, please read my previous blog by clicking HERE.

​The top 10 ribs wrap around to the front of the body and connect to the sternum either directly (ribs 1-7) or indirectly via cartilage (ribs 8-10). Ribs 11 and 12 are shorter and do not completely reach around the body or connect to the sternum. Thus, these ribs are called the floating ribs. Because of the ribs’ attachment to the thoracic spine and sternum, the thoracic spine has a reduction in flexibility and mobility.
The diaphragm muscle and intercoastal muscles serve the purpose for respiration. Attaching along the entire base of the lower ribs and the lower part of the sternum is our most important breathing muscle, the diaphragm. The diaphragm forms a dome which separates the thoracic cavity (hearth and lunges) from the abdominal cavity (all other organs). When the diaphragm is at rest, it raises into the thoracic cavity. When the diaphragm contracts (breathing in), it begins to flatten downward towards the abdominal cavity. This forces the abdominal organs downwards, allowing for a decrease in pressure and an increase in volume to occur in the thoracic cavity, thus permitting air to rush into the lungs. After taking a breath in, air is passively let back out of the lungs due to the diaphragm relaxing and returning back to its starting dome position. Attaching diagonally between each rib are the small intercoastal muscles. When breathing in, these muscles contract to lift and expand the ribcage. Just like when the diaphragm contracts, this allows for a decrease in pressure and increase in volume to occur in the thoracic cavity. When focusing on breathing, one should try to breathe from the lowest region of their lungs/ribs in order to obtain the most air during inhalation. The more air in the lungs, the more oxygen. The more oxygen, the better the blood is oxygenated for the entire body to function at a higher level.
Injury to the thoracic spine, the sternum, or the ribs can result in an improper [compensatory] breathing mechanics due to difficulty and pain whenever the ribs move or the ribs’ musculature contracts (i.e. breathing, exertion, coughing, sneezing, etc.). This can cause a decrease in oxygen supply to the body, thus causing a decrease in daily, recreational, or athletic capabilities. So, are there exercises to help when a rib is injured? Is there a way to strengthen my inspiratory muscles? The answer to both of these questions is yes, and these answers will be found in a future blog posts.


If you have questions about your pain/injury/limitation, or are interested in injury prevention, then please email us by clicking HERE, or call us at (864) 881-1712. We would love to take some time to help you.

If you need a physical therapist to evaluate, treat, or prevent your pain/injury/limitation, then click HERE to schedule an appointment today.