The Secret Life of the Floating Ribs …(a story about back pain, gut health and pregnancy)

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by Francine Tseng

If you place your palms on the small of your back, and take a deep breath in, you might notice a gentle movement rippling through your muscles. The floating ribs extend into this sea of muscle; and their unrestricted movement is important for the health of your low back, lungs, and soft internal organs such as your liver, colon, and kidneys.

How the floating ribs massage the organs and keep the back muscles supple: 

During a healthy in-breath, when the floating ribs are moving smoothly, the diaphragm pushes downwards and expands the lower rib cage in all directions; this movement naturally massages and improves blood-flow to the stomach, the liver, the spleen, the corners of the colon, the kidneys, and other abdominal organs. The diaphragm and floating ribs also have extensive fascial links to the muscles of the lower back. Therefore, healthy belly breathing helps to prevent strains and sprains of the low back and flank muscles.

What happens if the floating ribs are stuck (e.g. when you are pregnant)?

There are many instances where in the floating ribs experience tension and become “stuck”, and a common scenario for this is during pregnancy.

Jessica was 7 months pregnant. She was experiencing occasional heart burn, constipation, and recently hurt her lower back when she bent over to pick up her 2 year-old son. As it turns out, all of these symptoms can be linked back to dysfunction of the floating ribs.

Jessica’s growing baby was naturally causing increased strain throughout her belly.  Her muscles and connective tissue were stretched and tense, thus causing her floating ribs to virtually seize up and become immobile. Without the free movement of the floating ribs, Jessica’s diaphragm wasn’t moving properly either and her colon and soft organs were no longer being naturally massaged. She was experiencing constipation because the sides of her colon were not experiencing much motion. Furthermore, the stomach wasn’t being massaged and the diaphragm was tense. The esophagus, which passes through the diaphragm, was also feeling that tension, and was causing Jessica’s heartburn. Finally, Jessica’s stuck ribs also meant that she was predisposed to lower back injuries as her psoas and quadratus lumborum muscles were not stretching as deeply and were shortening, putting more pressure on her lower back.

Gosh that’s a lot!  So…. was there anything that could be done to help poor Jessica? 

Yes!  We wouldn’t leave you with a tale of doom and gloom (or Jessica).  Here’s what we would do for individuals with stuck floating ribs, like Jessica:

First, we would mobilize the floating ribs using osteopathic techniques and help them regain their natural motion.

The aim of treatment would be to promote the pumping movement of breathing to ripple throughout the abdomen as freely as possible, to help the muscles and organs find a position where they are suspended in optimal balance, able to access optimal blood-flow for nutrition and drainage, so that they can function freely and healthily.

Even during pregnancy when things are changing daily it’s possible to help the ribcage (and lots of other areas) so that you don’t experience back pain, constipation or heartburn!

For more information about the floating ribs, please contact Francine directly at francine@intrinsi.ca