Most times, ribs are right where they need to be. But every once in a while, an activity you do will contract the muscles around a rib a little too forcefully, causing it to shift slightly. This shift is very minimal, but it is enough to cause severe pain.
How do you know if a rib is shifted? Typically sharp pain in a specific location somewhere between your spine and shoulder blade, pain when taking a deep breath, and you have an area that feels like a tight muscle but will not calm down when you try to release it with a lacrosse ball, foam roller, or other soft tissue mobilization tool.
Luckily, it is usually a quick fix as long as you see someone who knows how to manipulate it back in place. All chiropractors will know the techniques to manipulate it and many physical therapists will know as well. Personally, I am usually able to get the rib to shift back into place very quickly, especially if it has just happened and the muscles around the area haven’t started guarding too heavily yet.
In most cases, the rib stays put after a quick manipulation, but not always. There are circumstances in which the area becomes unstable and continues to shift. It I usually not immediate, but several days later with a similar activity to what caused it in the first place. In these cases, exercises to stabilize the rib are necessary to gain back the stability to keep the rib in place.
If you have been having symptoms of a rib being shifted for several weeks and have not done anything about it, it can take longer to treat because the body adjusts/adapts to the new position. It does not mean it can’t be addressed, just that it takes a bit longer to resolve the issue.