Table of Contents
What Is Rib Flare
Rib flare is a condition that results in the external rotation of the lower ribs, whereby the bottom ribs slightly protrude.
Whilst it’s not 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.
We discuss the best rib flare exercises below to try and improve your condition
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.
Their primary function 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 side of the rib cage, it’s more common on the left side due to the larger organs be located here.
How Rib Flare Occurs
One of the most common causes of rib flare is due to shallow breathing.
This is when we breath air into the upper chest but without engaging the diaphragm.
Stress is a common cause of shallow breathing and overtime becomes 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 this condition, using techniques that can result in better core strength and thereby allowing for better breathing habits.
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 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 with repeated performing, your posture can improve along with symptoms of rib flare.
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 rib flare so by improving core strength may help fix this problem.
The one 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 of improving shoulder mobility and range of motion. It can also help to improve the appearance of the anterior delts by building lean muscle.
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 would be worth consulting 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.
Not only will it stretch out the lats, but it will also improve overall mobility of the 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 young patients as their bones are still forming.
They are a simple apparatus that, when worn, will pull back the shoulder blades forcing you to adopt an upright posture helping with a weak core and helping to 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 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 a little bit of consistency 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 aid in loosening tight muscles. As mentioned above, foam rollers and massage balls are excellent tools for myofascial release exercises.
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. At the same time, drop you 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.
When doing the arm extensions between the left and right hand behind the head, be sure to 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 whose muscles are 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 way to encourage better breathing is to perform diaphragmatic breathing techniques.
- 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 by your belly filling up with air.
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. It 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 a rib flare finds 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. It 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 rib flare is to enhance the functioning of the nervous system and improve core strength.
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.