Table of Contents
What Is Rib Flare
Rib flare is a condition that results in the external rotation of the lower ribs. This causes the ribs at the bottom of the ribcage to slightly protrude.
Whilst rib flare isn’t dangerous, it is something you’ll want to address as it can lead to back pain, poor posture, and a weakened core.
Typical causes of rib flare are poor breathing patterns over a long period of time or genetics.
Rib flare exercises can be a good way to fix the problem and alleviate rib flare symptoms. In this article, we’ll some suggest some useful exercises that you can do at home.
The primary function of the ribs is to aid with breathing and to protect the organs of the upper body, such as the heart and lungs.
Whilst rib flare can affect both sides of the rib cage, it’s more common on the left side due to the larger organs on this side of the body.
What Causes Rib Flare
The main cause of rib flare is shallow breathing. This is when we breath air into the upper chest but without engaging the diaphragm.
Our ribs are connected to both the sternum and the thoracic spine and are dynamic. This means that they move as we breath. The lower ribs will open up as we inhale and close as we exhale.
Stress is a common cause of shallow breathing and can become habitual, so in many cases people almost need to re-learn the habit of proper breathing.
Bad posture can also be a contributing factor which may lead to rib flare. The diaphragm is unable to fully expand and make contact with the thoracic wall because of rib flaring.
A slackening or lengthening of the lower abdominal muscles is a common result of poor posture. As an added complication, poor posture can lead to conditions like pelvic tilt.
There are several ways in which to improve rib flare, using techniques that can result in better core strength and thereby allowing for better breathing habits.
It’s worth noting that rib flare can also be common during pregnancy. This happens as the ribcage expands to allow for a growing baby. As the baby grows the internal organs are pushed upwards causing flaring of the ribs. After giving birth the ribs may return back to their normal position.
Rib Flare Exercises
One of the most effective tools for fixing posture and tight muscles, available as a complete roller or half sphere.
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1. Foam Roller the Lats
The latissimus dorsi muscles, commonly referred to as the lats, often become tight. This could be due to poor posture or spending much of the day sitting.
Tight lats can cause a pulling up of the pelvis (as they are attached) resulting in extension of the lumbar spine. This in turn can contribute to rib cage flare.
Here’s how to use a foam roller to loosen up tight lats.
- Lie on an exercise mat and position yourself on your side.
- Give yourself some stability by placing the arm closest to the floor, out in front.
- Position the foam roller between the floor and just below your armpit.
- Keep your core tight and lift your hips off the ground.
- Slowly roll the muscles up and down along the foam roller.
- Do not roll all the way down to where the lower ribcage is located as this may result in injury.
- Undertake 2 sets of 20 repetitions along each side.
If your lats are especially tight, this may be uncomfortable but it’s an exercise worth persevering with as by doing it often your posture can improve along with rib flare symptoms.
2. Plank Exercise
The plank is a very simple body weight exercise that builds strength to core muscles. As mentioned, a weakened core can contribute to flared ribs so by improving core strength may help fix rib flare.
The exercise mentioned below is a variation on the traditional plank and involves posterior pelvic tilt which pulls the pelvis closer to the ribcage.
- Lie on the floor face down, rest on your forearms and toes.
- Your elbows should be directly underneath your shoulders.
- Your pelvis should be aligned with your shoulders.
- Typically, you would be in an overextended position.
- Instead of this, tuck your chin in and tuck your pelvis. There should be a slight rounding of the upper back, but not too much.
- Hold this position for around 30 seconds and repeat 4 or 5 times.
3. Arm Raises
The arm raise exercise is a great way of improving shoulder mobility and range of motion. It can also help to build lean muscle to your anterior delts.
However, if you suffer from rib flare you’ll probably find that cannot raise the arms up and overhead without arching the lower back and pushing out the lower ribs.
Below is how to perform an arm raise without arching of the lower back.
- Start by sitting down crossed legged with your back flat against the wall.
- Keeping your back and head against the wall slowly begin to raise your arms up, keeping them straight as you go.
- Hold your core muscles tight throughout and stop once the back of hands touch the wall.
- Perform 10 to 15 repetitions.
Depending on your mobility and flexibility, this may be difficult to perform with full range of motion and proper form.
However, if you undertake this exercise regularly, you’ll quickly see improvements. Once this becomes easy to execute, you can progress the movement by performing it standing up.
3. Yoga Corrective Stretches
Adopting deep breathing during a yoga routine may help to restore protruding ribs to their correct place. It’s worth consulting with a yoga professional to learn the best yoga movements that you can perform at home.
Besides helping with rib flare, yoga is excellent to decrease stress, aid with better sleep and help to build strength. Proper posture adopted during yoga movements may also help relieve abdominal pressure, strengthen the back, and neck muscles, and aid shoulder mobility.
One of the best yoga movements to perform for rib flare is called the child’s pose. This is great to stretch out the lats and back muscles along with lengthening of the spine.
4. Doorway Lat Stretch
You should do the standing doorway routine every day if you want to see a significant reduction in shoulder pain and rapid improvement in your posture, both of which can help to fix rib flare.
Not only will it stretch out the lats, but it will also improve overall mobility of your rib cage. Here’s how to perform the exercise.
- Stand just in front of an open doorway.
- Internally rotate the arm (so that your palm is facing outwards) and take hold of the doorframe.
- Your hand should be in line with your shoulder.
- Slowly push your glutes backwards.
- Your shoulder will begin to lower, and you’ll start to feel a stretch along the lat.
- Hold this position for around 30 seconds and repeat 5 times before switching sides.
6. Posture Brace Correction
In severe cases and if rib flare is down to genetics as opposed to muscular weakness, then you could consider making use of a posture brace.
These help to encourage good posture and do tend to be more beneficial for younger people as their bones are still forming.
A posture brace is a simple apparatus that will pull back the shoulder blades forcing you to adopt an upright posture. This can help improve a weak core and may limit other health issues such as lower back pain.
Medical practitioners often recommend combining physical therapy with braces or straps.
Recent research shows that rib flare can be corrected using the orthosis (CDTA 2) remodelling method.
Braces are particularly effective in restoring flared ribs, even when you aren’t performing specific rib flare exercises aimed at improving the condition.
Wolff’s Law And Rib Flare
When bones are subjected to constant external pressure, they will take on a new shape.
Wearing braces designed for rib-shaping is essential to effectively exert external pressure, thus aligning flared ribs to their proper position.
Owing to the flexibility of the ribcage, corrective exercises plus the right movement patterns may help to improve muscle imbalances.
The only thing you need to do is be consistent with your daily habits while undertaking corrective exercises.
Release and Stretch Techniques
To fix rib flare you can make use of various massage tools that help to loosen tight muscles. Foam rollers and massage balls are excellent tools for myofascial release, breaking down muscle adhesions and knots.
There are a variety of exercises that can help to improve shoulder mobility, muscle imbalances, diaphragmatic breathing, and overall postural habits. These include oblique massage and rhomboid chest opener.
Dead Bug Exercise
The dead bug exercise is a floor-based body weight exercise that can help to strengthen core, back and spine. Here’s how to perform the exercise:
- Lie down, facing up.
- Raise your arms straight up in front of you so they are perpendicular to the ground.
- Raise your legs and keep the knees and hips bent at a 90-degree angle. This is your starting position.
- Slowly begin to lower and straighten out your left leg. At the same time, drop your right arm down and behind you.
- Both limbs should stop before they reach the ground.
- Hold for a count of 5 seconds before returning the leg and arm back to the starting position.
- Now swap over and lower the right leg and left arm.
- Make sure you hold the position for at least five seconds and keep your back flat on the ground with your core braced.
How Does Rib Flare Affect Breathing Patterns?
The diaphragm is a muscle that sits just beneath the lungs and aids in proper respiration. A diaphragm which is fully functional would facilitate proper breathing patterns.
Breathing in causes the lungs to expand while the diaphragm shrinks. If you suffer from rib flare, breathing activates less of the abdominal muscles meaning that your diaphragm is less likely to be as efficient.
A good way to encourage better breathing is to perform diaphragmatic breathing techniques such as the below.
- Begin by sitting upright with your feet flat on the ground.
- Place one hand on your upper chest and the other hand on your upper stomach area.
- Take a deep breathe in through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
- Pat attention to which part of your body is moving.
- The hand on your chest should remain static whilst the hand on your stomach should be moving in line with your breathing.
- Focus on inhaling whilst keeping your chest still while allowing your belly to fill with air.
Exhaling Problems With Rib Flare
Most patients with rib flare and excavatum conditions have weaker abdominal muscles but consequently may have stronger back muscles.
Such a patient would find it easier to inhale air than to breathe it out, which amounts to shallow breathing.
Exercises such as bioenergetics and yoga help to correct rib flare and provide the best results for improving the condition.
Symptoms and Signs of a Rib Flare
Zone of Apposition:
The human diaphragm and the rectus abdominis (abs) are naturally related to the body’s rib structure, and that relationship is referred to as the Zone of Apposition (ZOA).
Flared ribs mean the connection between the abs and the thoracic diaphragm is minimized, or ZOA no longer exists. This results in irregular breathing caused by bad diaphragmatic compression. It may also inhibit the easy contraction of your abdominal pressure.
Inability to perform a deep breath:
A patient with flared ribs will often find it difficult to breathe out air completely.
Stale air in your lungs is mostly CO2, with a few other impurities. Because it lacks fresh oxygen, the body has difficulty reaching the Zone of Apposition.
Worse still, the body will be struggling to enter a parasympathetic state.
Several breathing techniques have proven to aid in improving rib flare conditions. This involves diaphragmatic breathing methods (as mentioned above) where you inhale air through the nose and let it out through the mouth.
Deep breaths will let your stomach bulge out as it tries to accommodate more air whilst your chest remains static.
Rib flare may affect natural breathing patterns, denying you the ability to achieve a deep, grounded breath. The condition can also result in muscular weakness with aches and pains.
The easiest and best way to fix rib flare is to improve your core strength by performing the suggested exercises above.
Unless you have severe rib flare, regular corrective exercises will help.
At first, you may find breathing exercises difficult to sustain, but with repetition many of these exercises will become easier and help to alleviate rib flare symptoms. There are also the added benefits to be had from undertaking these muscular and breathing exercises.