How to fix Flared Ribs

flared ribs

What are Flared Ribs?

Flared ribs is where 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.

Ideally – The rib cage should feed directly into the pelvis.


The content presented on this blog post is not medical advice and should not be treated as such. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment.

For more information: Medical disclaimer.


Causes of Flared Ribs

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

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 significantly impact this.

 “… Do I have a rib flare?”

You should be able to visibly see if your ribs are flaring outwards.

If in doubt, do this:

test for flared ribs

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.

Results: 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. 


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

stretches for flared ribs

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:

breathing and flared ribs

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)

Core flared ribs

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

exercise for flared ribs

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!


What to do next

1. Any questions?… (Leave me a comment down below.)

2. Come join me on the Facebook page. Let’s keep in touch!

3. Start doing the exercises!


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237 thoughts on “How to fix Flared Ribs”

  1. Hi Mark, is it flared ribs when my ribs are rubbing against my abnominals? The last rib is rubbing against my abdominals when I flex and bend my spine to the left. My abs are really starting to get really painful and inflamed. What could it be?

    Reply
    • Hi Philip,

      Perhaps what you are referring to is inflammation of the costal cartilage that joins the ribs to the sternum. (I’m thinking Ribs 8-10)

      Have you been doing a lot of slouching whilst sitting? This can squash this region and cause it to become irritated.

      Mark

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply mark. Appreciate it.

        I’m not too sure since I don’t sit a lot. I’ve had a bad back injury before and I kept on stretching it which I think was the worst thing to do for relieving it and I think is also the cause for this. I’ve then strengthened my back and core then only the back pain started to dissipate, but the sort of snapping on my ab-rib area remained. Sorry I think I wrote a wrong description. when I flex my abs and bend right, there’s like this rubbing sensation. No, it’s more like snapping. I’ve done some simple searching of the rib thingy, and I feel like it pinpoints at rib 8-9.

        Reply
  2. Hey Mark. I have flared ribs and feeling better after doing these exercises. However, I can’t perform the wall slides and I never have. My shoulders just stops, I’ve been working heaps on my shoulder and Thorasic mobility. Could that that be the cause of my restrictions? Shoulders, pecs and Thorasic? Feels like it takes forever to release them.. thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Frida,

      On top of having very tight shoulder muscles which tend to pull the shoulders forwards (serratus anterior, pectorals, subclavius, anterior deltoid, lats), the other main factor to check is the shape of your thoracic spine.

      If there is a prominent flexion in the upper back, this can prevent the shoulders and arms from being in direct contact with the wall.

      For exercises to help with this: Hunchback Posture.

      Mark

      Reply
  3. Hiya,

    Thanks so much for this post – I’ve started doing the exercises and I am using muscles that I never knew I had! I wanted to ask – I have round shoulders and rib flare (despite years of practicing ballet) – and I saw you mention that as the ribs start coming down, the shoulders might be pulled forward too. As my shoulders are already fairly rounded, would you recommend I start following the rib flare exercises first, or start with the exercises in your post about fixing round shoulders? Or find some way of working on the two issues together?

    Thanks so much for any advice you are able to give!

    Reply
    • Hey Rosie, if you can address both, I would do that.

      If you can only address 1 at a time, I’d start with the area that would help fix any symptoms associated with it. For example – if your shoulders hurt, probably best to start with the rounded shoulders.

      Mark

      Reply
  4. Hi
    I have diastasis recti and have really weak core and tend to hunch with bad posture. Hopefully I can get muscles repaired this year. But I noticed know I have low back pain and tight hip flexors and hamstrings. I believe it is all because a poor core. Where do I start. I have no idea. Right now I just walk and do stretches. Because everything hurts. Any tips.

    Reply
    • Hi Manay,

      It is common for the hip flexors and hamstrings to be more active if you have a weak core.

      You can start with very gentle core exercises. I have posted some here: Core activation exercises.

      Just pick 1 and start from there. Most important thing to consider is to make sure that you can feel the core contract.

      Mark

      Reply
  5. Thank you very much for the exercises Mark, but I don’t know if these exercises would work for me because my problem is similar, but it is only on the left side of my rib in the MIDDLE not down, and it is like it is a little dented “( “It would be very helpful if you could tell me how to treat it. This happened to me in an accident where I put a lot of pressure on the left side of my rib.

    Reply
    • Hey there,

      It is possible to have a flared rib just on the one side. If I were to guess, it might be in response to a rotated pelvis.

      However – given that you have had direct trauma to the area, injury to to the ribs and/or costal cartilage in the area is a possibility.

      Mark

      Reply
    • Hey Mark again thank you for the response, is there a solution to get my costal cartilage on the left side of my rib to its original shape?
      And can pectus excavatus excercises solve the problem of my left rib even though is not what I have but a bit similar.

      Reply
      • Hey Jhosue,

        Cartilage is malleable so it is possible that it can improve. However – as you have mentioned it changed shape due to direct trauma, the structure may have already been permanently changed.

        In regards to pectus excavatum exercise, it’s hard to say but it might help? But I personally haven’t seen someone do pectus excavatum exercises to fix flared ribs.

        Mark

        Reply
  6. Injured my ribs ,when it healed it’s sticking out what kind of different rib wrap should I put on my rib or is there a special one it’s painful when I sleep on my stomach

    Reply
    • Hey Paul,

      If your ribs are sticking out after a traumatic injury, I would suggest that you get an xray to screen for any fractures.

      In regards to a rib wrap, if you feel that compression will help with the pain, you might benefit from compression bandaging the area. (don’t go too tight though)

      Mark

      Reply
  7. Hi Mark!

    I am a bit over my weight but I can still feel my flared ribs. While losing weight regularly also help with the flared ribs? How long does it take for them to go back into its correct posture?

    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Hi! I was literally in physical therapy today and was told to exhale all the way and keep my ribs down like that while breathing into my stomach. I could not do it. I can’t figure out how to keep my ribs down and still breathe. I just tensed up my back and shoulders and everything trying so hard. I have lordosis, kyphosis, rounded shoulders, anterior pelvic tilt, rotation, the works (due to a condition called EDS, which definitely makes things complicated so I promise I’ll talk with my PT before trying anything). I’m wondering if you could explain how exactly you should be keeping the ribs down while still letting your stomach move enough to breathe. I’m guessing I’m using the wrong muscles.

    Reply
    • Hey Cherie,

      It sounds like your body is used to breathing with flared ribs. This will make it difficult to breathe with the ribs in a downwards position. (This is fine as it will get better with practice).

      If you have difficulty performing this exercises on your back, you can try it whilst on all 4s with you completely rounded back. This position will be easier to avoid the rib flare whilst inhaling.

      Mark

      Reply
  9. Hi Mark! This write-up is fantastic and I had used it about a year or so ago to correct my posture. Lately, my ribs seem to be a problem again and I have not kept up with the exercises. However, I’m having a lot of trouble activating the breathing complex now to perform my exercises. For some reason, it’s really difficult to expel all the air out of my lungs and I feel like the air is truly stuck in my sternum. If I continue to exhale, I almost get a sense of panic and my face gets hot. By chance do you have any advice? I’m not sure if my breathing’s become really dysfunctional and if I need to seek some sort of specialist.

    JP

    Reply
    • Hi JP!

      Are you a smoker or have any lung issue? This can limit the amount of air you can fully exhale.

      If not, perhaps aim to expel 70-80% of your total lung volume and build it up from there.

      Try not to overly force the breathing!

      Mark

      Reply
  10. Hello Mark.

    I have been looking at reading your blog for about an year. Doing the exercises that I think I need to do. I have right shoulder pain since I was a teen and I am 41. I have had physio and chiro for over 10 years and had seen many specialists and had surgery performed on my scapula to get rid of scar tissues. Nothing had helped. Spine structure and muscle tissue wise there is no issue as far as looking x-ray, mri, and so on.

    I have narrowed it down to the obvious physical appearance associated with my symptom I can find from your blog is that I have minor (1cm) left pelvis tilt and right scapular wings with inflamed right trap/shoulder region. Is there a way for me to get a release/stretch/strengthening for particular symtoms I have instead of following exercises for an indivdual part of the body?

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hello Mark,

      I am interested if you or anyone else on here suffers from acid reflux associated with this condition. I have had unexplained GERD for about 8 months and the only thing that makes since is a shoulder-rib injury that comes and goes from years ago?!?

      Reply

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