Floating rib: anatomy and function


The human rib cage is made up of 12 pairs of ribs, some of which attach to a bony process in the front of the chest called the sternum . The first seven ribs are attached directly to the sternum through the cartilage that forms at the end of each rib. Others adhere indirectly because they are attached to the cartilage of the rib above.

The last two pairs of ribs on the lower chest do not attach to the breastbone at all. These ribs are called "floating" because their only point of attachment is at the back of the rib cage, which is attached to the vertebrae in the spine. Due to their lack of union, these ribs are more prone to injury and are associated with a painful, albeit rare, condition called slipped rib syndrome.


The rib cage is a bony structure found in the chest (thoracic cavity). It consists of 12 pairs of ribs. Each pair is numbered according to its attachment to the sternum, a bony process in the front of the rib cage that serves as a reference point. The cartilage that forms at the end of each rib (costal cartilage) is directly or indirectly attached to the sternum.


A single rib has five parts: head, neck, body or axis, tubercle, and angle.


The ribs are located in the rib cage (chest cavity).

Anatomical variations

The first seven ribs are attached directly to the breastbone and are called "royal ribs." The first rib is located above the clavicle and is shorter and curved than the others. The next six ribs are longer and become more open (rather than curved) as the rib cage continues along the torso.

Each of the seven "royal" ribs attaches to the sternum (breastbone) at the front of the rib cage through cartilage and to the vertebrae at the back of the spine.

The remaining ribs (8 to 12) are called "false ribs" because they do not attach directly to the breastbone. Instead, they attach to the cartilage of the ribs of the sternum. However, the last two pairs of ribs on the bottom, also known as "floating ribs," do not attach at all to the front of the rib cage, but only to the vertebrae at the back .

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The human rib cage (rib cage) does a very important job of protecting the heart and lungs. The ribs are part of the axial skeleton and are classified as flat bones. The main task of flat bones is to protect the underlying structures. Other flat bones in the human body are found in the pelvis and skull.

Several layers of compact bone and bone marrow form flat plates. Red blood cells form in the bone marrow of flat bones.

Thanks to the cartilaginous junctions and the tendons that surround them, the rib cage can expand to accommodate the movement of the lungs and diaphragm during breathing . Although most of this cartilage remains flexible throughout life, the lower end of the sternum, known as the xiphoid process, ossifies (hardens) with age.

Broken or bruised ribs

Like any bone in the human body, ribs can break or break , although the terminology used to describe chest wall and chest wall injuries can be confusing. The fascia surrounding the chest may bruise, resulting in the injury being described as a bruised rib. When it comes to broken or broken ribs, the two terms refer to the same injury or trauma that occurs to the bone.

The key difference between broken, bruised, and broken ribs is whether the chest bones are involved or whether the chest wall tissue is damaged in the first place. In some cases, both are involved. Although a bruised rib may not seem as serious as a broken rib, damage to the tissues that surround and support the rib cage can be extremely painful .

The ribs can be broken by an external source, such as a chest injury from a car accident, or an internal source, such as the pressure of a prolonged cough.

Slipped rib syndrome

Although not as common as chest wall trauma, sliding rib syndrome is a curious condition that can be distressing for people who have it but don't know why it occurs.

Slipped rib syndrome (also called Cyriax syndrome) occurs when mobile ribs that are not directly attached to cartilage move. The movement of these lower ribs is often felt as a sliding, snapping, or popping sensation. The sensation usually occurs on only one side of the chest (unilateral), but the pain can radiate to the back on the affected side. The sensation can be very painful or simply a source of discomfort .

Sliding rib syndrome can come and go. Movements such as rolling over in bed, lifting weights, and coughing can increase discomfort or cause a sharp throbbing pain.

It appears to be reported more frequently by middle-aged women, although cases have occurred in men, women, and children of all ages. The exact cause of slipped rib syndrome is unknown, but overuse or injury to the ribs are common risk factors .

Watch out

Most chest wall and chest injuries are treated similarly. Unlike other bones in the body, such as an arm or a leg, the rib cage cannot be immobilized if the bone is broken. Similarly, if a person has suffered an injury to the chest muscles or ligaments, there is little that can be done to reduce movement: the chest must move at least enough to expand when breathing.

Therefore, the treatment of soft tissue injuries and fractures is the same and is primarily aimed at relieving pain and any aggravating factors (such as cough). With enough time and supportive therapy (including pain relief), these injuries usually heal on their own. However, the healing period can be very uncomfortable and can continue if the rib cage becomes irritated or damaged again.

Your doctor may suspect the disorder after ruling out other causes of your symptoms, such as broken ribs, esophagitis, or chest pain from pleurisy. The gold standard for diagnosing this condition is a simple hook maneuver that can be performed in the office and can help determine if the lower ribs are hypermobile .

Treatment depends on the severity of the pain that accompanies it. If a person with slipped rib syndrome has pain that cannot be controlled with over-the-counter pain relievers, temporary activity restrictions, and ice packs, a doctor may prescribe a nerve block .

Get the word of drug information

Although the condition can range from mild irritation to a painful interruption in exercise, slipped rib syndrome does not put a person at increased risk for injury or a more serious condition involving the chest wall or chest wall. With proper management, understanding of the nature of the condition, and confidence, most people who suffer from it do not suffer from any complications.

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