Female Rib Cage - Anatomy Bones

What is Rib Flare

It's time to debunk a common misconception that the rib cage is just a rigid fortress with no bearing on your mobility and movement. While it does an admirable job of safeguarding your heart and lungs, brace yourselves, because it can develop some issues of its own. Enter "rib flare" – a term that spells trouble for your movement, posture, and overall mobility.

Now, don't be fooled into thinking that rib flare is solely a result of traumatic accidents, like car crashes or falls. No, this sneaky culprit often sneaks up on you over time. Understanding what rib flare entails and, more importantly, how to combat it can revolutionize your breathing patterns, core strength, and the way you carry yourself. Believe it or not, rib flare might even be the root cause of those pesky neck, hip, and back pains!

So, let's roll up our sleeves and dive headfirst into this!

What exactly is rib flare, you ask?

Ever noticed your rib cage jutting out during an intense overhead exercise or when you're tackling those heavier weights? Maybe you felt your ribs taking flight from the exercise mat during a rigorous core workout.

Well, my friend, that's what we call rib flare, and it's usually a telltale sign of an underperforming core, instability, or sometimes both. It might seem like an easy way out, making those exercises feel less challenging, but it's a setup for potential injuries.

Rib flare can also crash the party during and after pregnancy, especially among those with smaller torsos, as it makes room for that growing bundle of joy. As the baby expands, the ribs tilt upward and outward (or open, depending on your perspective). And if you happen to have a shorter torso, brace yourself because the baby's pushing outward against the rib cage, causing it to expand in all sorts of directions.

But wait, there's more! Rib flare isn't just about exercise form and pregnancy; it can rear its head due to genetics, erratic breathing patterns, or high-stress levels.

Spotting the beast – How to tell if you have rib flare

Now, here's the tricky part – rib flare actually covers two potential issues: wonky rib positioning or changes in the rib angle (also known as the ISA/infrasternal angle).

Thankfully, spotting rib flare is a walk in the park.

If it's all about abnormal rib positioning, you'll notice your ribs sticking out – especially during overhead movements or when you're lounging around. Look at it from the side, and you'll see a significant gap between the floor and your lower back.

To check for rib flare due to rib angle changes, place your thumbs along your ribs at the base of your breastbone (sternum). They should naturally form a 90-degree angle. If they don't, it's likely you're dealing with an abnormal rib angle that's affecting your rib positioning.

The aftermath – Other problems that tag along with rib flare

Rib cage RTG

While some lucky souls may see their ribs snap back into shape after pregnancy, others might grapple with lingering issues. Some folks might not even realize there's an issue, as rib flare doesn't always bring pain or discomfort, especially in that particular area.

But here's the kicker – regardless of the cause, it's imperative to address rib flare.

Apart from the visible changes in the mirror, rib flare can stir up inflammation and, over time, discomfort. But there are more pressing concerns at play.

One major game-changer is the shift in your breathing efficiency. When you've got flared ribs, your abdominal muscles struggle to kick into gear, and your diaphragm (that all-important "breathing muscle") doesn't play its part properly. The result? You're inhaling more air than you can exhale.

And that's not all – rib flare can throw a wrench in your spinal alignment. Your upper back, or thoracic spine, takes a nosedive into hyperextension, all while weak upper back muscles and lousy sitting or standing posture pile on the pressure. Without intervention, you're looking at a slew of other problems tied to that wonky spinal alignment and pesky rib flare.

If you're battling flared ribs and hunting down the cause of your lower back pain, you might just have hit the bullseye. Much like your thoracic spine, the lower spine takes a bow when rib flare's in town. A common companion to rib flare is an anterior pelvic tilt, the fancy term for your hips and pelvis taking a forward roll. That, in turn, gives a green light to those overworked hip flexors and back extensors, putting the opposing muscle crew (abdominals, glutes, and hamstrings) in the back seat.

As you might have guessed, it's all connected. One shift in your anatomy can send a ripple effect through a dozen other areas. That's why it's crucial to stay vigilant about these shifts – and rib flare, my friends, is one of them.

The remedy – How to tackle rib flare head-on

Two words to the rescue: Core. Strengthening.

A formidable core is your ticket to rib health and taming that unruly rib flare. But hold your horses; we're not talking about your run-of-the-mill "abs" here – we're diving deep into your inner core. So forget about tossing in an ab circuit or aiming for 50 crunches a day; it won't cut it.

For those grappling with rib flare post-pregnancy, the name of the game is tackling it early in the postpartum period. Like most things, the earlier you address the issue, the better your odds of keeping other problems at bay.

Step one in your journey is mastering the art of engaging your core correctly. Without this foundational skill, you might be inadvertently training the wrong muscles, leading to limited progress. The go-to cue for activating your core is to "pull your belly button into your spine."

Once you've got your core engagement down pat, a roster of exercises can help you bolster those inner core muscles:

  • Dead Bugs
  • Wall Angels
  • Kneeling Pullovers
  • 90/90 Bridge

But here's the icing on the cake – aside from tackling rib flare, fortifying your core serves as your shield against future injuries, especially if you're gunning for specific fitness goals. As your workouts ramp up with heavier weights and greater challenges, the last thing you want is your form to take a nosedive.

So, let's drive this point home – don't sweep rib flare under the rug. If you've got questions or want to delve deeper into rib flare treatment, consider reaching out to a physical therapist. This battle is worth fighting!

James Freeman


Liam Marshall, the friendly fitness coach, has spent 14 years sharing his love for sports and fitness. With degrees in sports science, he crafts workouts that fit like your favorite jeans. Beyond the gym, he organizes sports clinics and tech-savvy fitness apps that motivate people worldwide. He's all about making fitness doable for everyone, and it's not just about bodies – it's boosting confidence. In 2019, he scored the "Virginia Fitness Coach of the Year" award. Outside the fitness world, he loves family time and hikes in Shenandoah National Park. Liam's journey from a small-town fitness fan to a big-time coach is all about passion, inspiring people to see fitness as a body-and-mind thing. Catch him on Instagram to stay in the loop!