How to fix Flared Ribs

// What are Flared Ribs?

When you have flared ribs,  the lower portion at the front of your rib cage protrudes forwards and out.

It is associated with an increased arch of the lower back.


The rib cage should feed directly into your pelvis.

 

// What are the causes?

a) Weak abdominal muscles:

The abdominal muscles are responsible for tilting the rib cage downwards and inwards into a more neutral position.

 

b) Hyperlordosis:

flared ribs

Overactive/tight muscles such as the quadratus lumborum, paraspinal erectors and latissimuss dorsi can cause an excessive arch in the lower back which results in a rib flare.

Hyperlordosis is associated with an anterior pelvic tilt.

 

c) Ineffective breathing:

The diaphragm is the primary muscle that is responsible for breathing.

Ineffective breathing will result in the recruitment of compensatory muscles to assist with respiration.

As a result, over-activity of these muscles can lead to flared ribs.

 

d) Lack of true shoulder flexion:

When reaching over head –  if you lack true shoulder mobility, your ribs will tend to flare out as a compensation as you tilt your torso backwards.

 

e) Pectus excavatum:

Image from Mayo clinic.

This is a congenital chest wall deformation which involves the ribs/sternum causing a sunken chest appearance.

As this is of genetic origins, we are unfortunately unable to change this.

 

// “… Do I have it?

You should be able to visibly see your ribs flaring out. If in doubt, do this:

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing, place both of your hands on your stomach.
    • (slightly below the lower section of the front of your ribs.)
  • Proceed to push and drag your hands up towards your chest.
  • If you can feel your lower ribs significantly protruding outwards, then it is likely that you have flared ribs!

 

How to fix Flared Ribs

Image courtesy of farconville at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 


Note: Please make sure that you perform all of these exercises in a pain-free and gentle manner. If you are unsure, please feel free to contact me on the Facebook page and I will help you directly.


1. Releases

a) Lower back

Instructions:

  • Place a massage ball underneath the muscles of your lower back.
  • Apply an appropriate amount of body weight on top of the ball.
  • You may perform gentle circular motions to increase the pressure.
  • Aim for 1 minute on each side of the spine.

 

b) Latissimus dorsi

Instructions:

  • Place the side of your upper body on top of a foam roller. (see above)
  • Apply an appropriate amount of body weight.
  • Proceed to roll up and down.
  • Continue for 1 minute.
  • Repeat on other side.

 

2. Stretches

a) Lower back

Instructions:

  • Whilst sitting, lean all the way forward.
  • Aim to feel a stretch in your lower back.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 1-3 times.

b) Latissimus dorsi

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing side ways to a door frame, tilt your torso by reaching over with the arm that is furthest away from the wall.
  • Firmly anchor this arm by grabbing onto the side of the door frame.
  • Lean away from the anchored arm.
  • Aim to feel a stretch on the side of the body.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Do both sides.

 

3. Breathing and the Core

Before you start any strengthening exercises to fix your flared ribs, it is ESSENTIAL to understand how to:

a) engage your core muscles,

b) breathe properly/efficiently and,

c) maintain optimal alignment.

(… all at the same time!)

Here’s how to do it…

The Core breathing complex:

Instructions:

  • Assume the position as shown above.
  • Breathe in.
  • As you breathe out,  slowly push out ALL of the air out of your lungs:
    • Engage your core muscles (“draw belly button in AND gently tense your abdominal muscles”)
    • Lower your rib cage
    • Flatten your lower back completely
  • Whilst maintaining this position, breathe in towards your abdominal region.
    • Imagine the whole circumference of your torso/abdominal region inflate.
    • Breathe out: Force the air out of your lungs as you engage your abdominal muscles.
  • Keep your neck and chest completely relaxed.
  • Repeat 10 times. (… or as long as it takes to get it correct!)

** Note This specific contraction MUST be performed throughout all of the following exercises. **

 

4. Strengthening


I have arranged these strengthening exercises to reduce flared ribs in order of increasing level of difficulty.

You do NOT need to do all of them.

Pick 1-3 exercises that are challenging and progress as appropriate.


a) Dead bug (with arm drop)

Instructions:

  • Assume the dead bug position. (see above)
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Lower your arm/s down behind you as far as you can go.
    • Breathe OUT as you do it.
    • Breathe IN as you return to the starting position.
  • Keep your lower back completely flat on the ground.
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • To progress: Hold onto a weight

b) Dead bug (with leg drop)

Instructions:

  • Assume the dead bug position. (see above)
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Lower your leg as far as you can go.
    • Breathe OUT as you do this.
    • Breathe IN as you return to the starting position.
  • Keep your lower back completely flat on the ground.
  • Alternate legs for 10 repetitions each.
  • To progress: Drop both legs together.

 

c) Shoulder flexion with bar

Instructions:

  • Sit up right on a chair.
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Whilst holding onto a bar, raise the bar over your head.
    • Breathe OUT as you do this.
    • Breathe IN as you bring you arms down.
  • Do NOT let your ribs to flare outwards.
    • “Keep the ribs down”
  • Repeat 10 times.
  • To progress: Increase the speed.

 

d) Wall angel

Instructions:

  • Stand with your back to a wall.
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Keep your back and arms pulled backwards as to remain in contact with the wall throughout movements.
  • Place your arms in the ‘W’ starting position.
  • Transition to ‘I’ position.
    •  Breathe OUT as you do this.
    • Breathe IN as you return to the “W” starting position.
  • Do NOT let your ribs flare.
    • Keep the lower back flat on the wall.
  • Repeat 10 times.

e) Plank

Instructions:

  • Get into the plank position. (see above)
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Make sure your lower back does NOT sink in.
    • Keep the core engaged.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat 3 times.

f) Pull downs

Instructions:

  • Whilst standing with a slight forward lean, pull the resistance band downwards.
  •  Activate the Core Breathing Complex
  • Slowly let your arms recoil to the over head position.
    • Breathe OUT as you do this.
  • Your torso should not move during this exercise.
  • Pull the resistance band back to starting position.
    • Breathe IN as you do this.
  • Repeat 10 times.

g) Pull overs

Instructions:

  • Lie on the floor whilst holding onto a weight in the air.
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Slowly lower the weight as far as you can go.
    • Breathe OUT as you do this.
  • Bring the weight back to the starting position.
    • Breathe IN as you do this.
  • Do not let your ribs flare upwards.
  • Repeat 10 times.

h) Roll outs

Instructions:

  • Grab an exercise ball.
  • Whilst kneeling, place your forearms onto the ball.
  • Activate the Core Breathing Complex.
  • Proceed apply your body weight onto the ball as you roll it as far forward as you can.
    • Breathe OUT as you roll forward.
    • Breathe IN as you return to starting position
  • Repeat 10 times.

5. Improving function

Throughout the day, make sure that you are consciously maintaining your ribs in a neutral position.

Remember – “Keep the ribs down”

As you get better with these exercises, the aim is to get your ribs to NATURALLY adopt this position.

 

“Mark!… What happens if the rib flare is more on ONE SIDE?”

Great question!

It is actually very common to have a more prominent rib flare on one side.

Without getting into too much detail as to why this occurs, it is essentially related to how your torso is orientated. (… more on this in another post)

Here’s what to do: Focus MORE on keeping the side of the more prominent rib flare DOWN whilst performing the above exercises.


READ THIS:

As you correct your flared ribs, you may actually find that your upper body becomes more hunched over.

Wait a minute, Mark… Are you saying that when you fix one problem, another develops?

Yes – Since your current posture is based on you having a rib flare, by correcting it, other parts of the body may go out of alignment.

Be sure to check this and this post to help you with these problem!


 

 

… Any questions?

Feel free to leave me a comment below.

I reply to EVERYONE! (and yes, I mean everyone!)

About

I am a physiotherapist who has personally experienced the pain as a result of bad posture. I would like to offer you some of the solutions that I and my patients have greatly benefited from.

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4 thoughts on “How to fix Flared Ribs

  1. Great article. When you activate the core complex e.g. on wall angels why do you flatten your back? This outs you in posterior pelvic tilt also or is it neutral no?

    1. Hey Dave,

      Great observation!

      Ideally, you want a neutral pelvis (maybe even slight posterior pelvic tilt) with the ribs coming down.

      The focus would be on getting the back flight by depressing the front ribs as opposed to tucking your pelvis.

      Mark

  2. Hello Mark , thank you for publishing all this information and knowledge of yours on the internet I really apreciate it . I just discovered your blog today while searching for metods of fixing my rounded shoulders , anterior pelvic tilt and flared ribs (seems that when I search for one I find I have another ). And it seems I’ve found the right place , I will definittely start doing all this exercises . Altought I want to ask you something if you are kind to answer me , How long does it take to fix my problems or atleast to se results , and if I manage to fix my problems can I stop doing the exercises or should I continue with them ? Also if I don’t have a massage ball is there anything I can use instead ? Thank you again for your help .

    1. Hi Victor,

      It’s hard to say exactly how long it will take to completely fix it. You want to make sure that you see at least small improvements (either in your posture, or with ease of the exercise) each time.

      Once fixed, you should still continue to do them. (But you won’t have to do them as regularly.)

      If you don’t have a massage ball, anything that is firm and can press into your muscles will be fine.

      Mark

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