Medical Q&As

Floating rib - very painful?

My GP has diagnosed me with 12th rib syndrome and treated me a number of times for it. I still have not had any relief. Can you tell me more about this condition?

I am assuming for the purpose of answering your question that the 12th rib syndrome you refer to is a painful condition of the floating ribs. Before attempting to explain your problem it is important to briefly consider the anatomy of the ribs and their attachments. The first seven pairs of ribs are directly attached to the sternum or breastbone with cartilage. The following three pairs of ribs are connected to each other with cartilage and that strip of cartilage is in turn attached to the lower end of the sternum. The last two sets of ribs are shorter than the others and do not extend around to the front of the lower chest. These ribs are not attached either directly or indirectly to the sternum and are known as the floating ribs. Therefore the tips of these ribs are prone to being stubbed in the same way that you might stub the tip of your finger. It might not require any major trauma to injure a floating rib and the resulting pain can be quite persistent. Sometimes it might take many weeks for such pain to resolve. NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are commonly used to treat such pain. If such treatment were not successful physiotherapy would be a further option to consider. Given the fact that you have not received any relief it would be advisable to return to your GP for re-assessment.