Now accepting Telehealth appointments. Schedule a virtual visit.
Skip to main content

What You Should Know About Slipping Rib Syndrome

Have you been feeling a sharp, persistent ache in your lower chest or upper abdomen that just won’t go away, especially when you breathe deeply or move in certain ways? You might be experiencing something known as slipping rib syndrome. 

While this condition sounds like it involves moving bones, and to some extent, it does, the associated symptoms are all about irritated nerves. That’s why it’s important to seek a provider specializing in microsurgery and nerve repair surgery, like board-certified plastic surgeon Anthony Echo, MD.

At his practice in Houston, Texas, Dr. Echo puts his extensive expertise to work for patients struggling with nerve-related issues of all kinds — including slipping rib syndrome. Keep reading to learn what you should know about this painful condition.    

What is slipping rib syndrome?

Slipping rib syndrome occurs when the cartilage (a tough but flexible material in your body) that usually keeps your ribs in place gets worn out or damaged. When this happens, one of your ribs can move more than it should, making it slip and slide a bit.

The extra movement can impinge or irritate one or more of the nerves that help your chest and side (thoracic cage) experience sensations. Irritation of these nerves means you experience pain during normal activities and movements, including taking deep breaths. 

Why might I develop slipping rib syndrome?

Your ribs protect your vital organs while allowing flexibility for breathing. When something injures or damages the bones, ligaments, muscles, or tendons in this area, they can weaken, leading to slipping rib syndrome. 

Different factors can lead to the condition. Physical trauma and injuries, repetitive upper body movements, especially those involving twisting (e.g., sports; playing an instrument), wear and tear from daily activities, or congenital issues can all play a role in straining the rib area.

Over time, these factors can lead to the degeneration or breakdown of the cartilage, making the ribs less stable and more likely to slip. 

What are the signs I have slipping rib syndrome?

The most common symptom of slipping rib syndrome is sharp, stabbing, or burning pain in your lower chest or upper abdomen, which may get worse when you take deep breaths. Other signs include:

New research has shown that some patients may also have thinning of the primary abdominal muscle (rectus abdominis). Scientists believe chronic irritation or impingement of the nerve that supplies the muscle could cause this. 

How is slipping rib syndrome diagnosed?

Diagnosing slipping rib syndrome can be tricky since the issue is with your cartilage, which doesn't show up well on X-rays. Dr. Echo might order imaging tests, like an ultrasound, to rule out other causes of your symptoms or get information about the surrounding tissues. 

If Dr. Echo suspects slipping rib syndrome, he reviews your medical history, considers your symptoms, and conducts a physical exam called the “hooking maneuver.” 

He puts his fingers under the edge of your ribs, then lifts the rib cage a little to see if this triggers your symptoms or if he can feel the rib sliding or slipping.  

In addition, based on the newer research discussed above, Dr. Echo may assess the size of your primary abdominal muscle. If it is getting smaller, it could help identify slipping rib syndrome. 

What are the treatments for slipping rib syndrome?

Sometimes, nonsurgical options, such as pain management, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications, are used in cases where symptoms are mild or surgery isn’t an option.

However, if you have persistent, debilitating symptoms, or if the condition progresses to where your rib segment separates or becomes mobile, surgery may be the best course of action. 

Surgery for slipping rib syndrome focuses on removing the slipping cartilage and the nerve that’s causing the problematic symptoms. This procedure, rib resection, requires a surgeon with special nerve training

Surgeons with this specialized training deeply understand your nervous system’s role in pain and are equipped with the techniques necessary to treat conditions like this effectively.

The surgery involves making an incision along the lower border of your rib cage. This access is crucial for Dr. Echo to identify and address the slipping rib and affected nerves accurately. 

The goal of the surgery is to stabilize your rib and eliminate the source of pain. After recovery, you can return to your daily activities without discomfort.

Schedule a consultation online or over the phone with Dr. Echo at our Houston, Texas, office to learn more about treating slipping rib syndrome.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Understanding Your Foot Drop Diagnosis

Understanding Your Foot Drop Diagnosis

Diagnosed with foot drop and feeling overwhelmed? Discover everything you need to know about this condition, including causes, symptoms, and treatment options that can help you get back on your feet.
Understanding Femoral Nerve Compression

Understanding Femoral Nerve Compression

Are you struggling with thigh pain or weakness and unsure why? Learn whether femoral nerve compression could be the cause of your uncomfortable symptoms and how we can help you find lasting relief.