Rib Flare: Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

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Key Points

  • Rib flare is a condition that has the potential to impact your health negatively.

  • Several factors determine whether you need corrective measures for rib flare.

  • A strong core and proper posture help reduce the risk of rib flare development in men and women.

Most people mistakenly assume that the rib cage is a large, stiff, boxy structure that has little to do with movement and mobility. While these characteristics allow the rib cage to protect the heart and lungs, you might be surprised to learn that it is as vulnerable as those parts of the body it protects. Rib flare, an often undiagnosed condition, refers to an abnormal rib cage positioning — caused by poor posture — that has a domino effect on movement, mobility, and breathing. Performing rib flare exercises is an excellent way to treat and prevent this condition.

Rib flare doesn't have to cause you lifelong discomfort. Valuable insight into its causes, symptoms, and potential health risks may shed light on restoring mobility and health to your core, a vital part of your overall health. Which rib flare exercises are most effective at improving and protecting your health?

What is Rib Flare?

Rib flare is a condition characterized by the abnormal positioning of the rib cage, where your lower ribs prominently protrude, causing a visible arch or flare shape beneath the skin. While it seems purely aesthetic, rib flare has several significant health implications that impact overall health.

The significance of rib flare as a health condition lies in its impact on mobility, movement, and posture. Abnormal rib cage positioning disrupts the spine's natural alignment and affects surrounding muscles, ligaments, and organs. A wide range of issues develop.

Musculoskeletal Issues

Rib flare contributes to muscle imbalances, especially in the back, hips, and abdominal area. These imbalances result in poor posture, increased stress on the spine that leads to subluxations, and decreased mobility. Over time, this develops into chronic pain, discomfort, and a greater risk of musculoskeletal injuries.

Respiratory Difficulties

Severe cases of rib flare interfere with proper lung function and limit the capacity of your lungs to expand fully during breathing. This results in shallow breathing, decreased oxygen intake, and reduced physical performance. 

Core Instability

Abnormal rib cage positioning affects the stability of core muscles, which play a critical role in protecting the spine and providing core support. Weak core muscles lead to reduced function and strength, compromised balance, and an increased risk of back injuries.

Poor Posture

Rib flare often accompanies other posture issues, such as rounded shoulders and anterior pelvic tilt. These imbalances cause additional strain on the spine, increase the risk of abnormal spinal development, and contribute to a landslide of undesirable musculoskeletal accommodations. 

Allowing rib flare to develop without addressing or correcting it exacerbates these problems, leading to decreased quality of life and potential long-term health consequences. Understanding the condition and taking measures to correct it are critical to promoting optimal health and well-being. 

Rib Flare Anatomy and Changes

When ribs behave as they should, they angle downward toward the front of the body. In the rib flare position, however, they deviate from their normal alignment, leading to outward protrusion. This deviation and upward angle disrupt the spine's natural curvature, which has many implications for movement, mobility, and posture.

Several factors contribute to rib flare development. Skeletal composition, genetic predisposition, and muscle imbalances play a significant role in rib cage development. 

Poor posture, particularly slouching or excessive back arching, also contributes to rib flare. Hormonal changes like those experienced before, during, and after pregnancy may further complicate your condition.

Rib flare is often associated with other underlying physical conditions.

  • Those with scoliosis, a lateral curvature of the spine, commonly develop and exhibit rib flare because of pre-existing spinal misalignment.

  • Another condition known as hyperlordosis causes an inward curvature of the lower spine.

  • Diastasis recti, or separation of the abdominal muscles, also contributes to rib flare, as it weakens abdominal support that usually holds the rib cage in place. 

Understanding the definition, anatomical causes, and associated conditions of rib flare provide a solid foundation for comprehending the complexity and seriousness of this condition. By diving deeper into this information, you gain valuable insight into underlying mechanisms and causes to equip yourself better to address it if needed.

Signs and Symptoms

Most physical signs and characteristics of rib flare are evident in the appearance and alignment of the rib cage. Here are the most common features and symptoms associated with rib flare.

Lower Rib Protrusion

The most noticeable sign of rib flare is the protrusion or flaring out of the lower part of the ribcage. The lower half of your ribcage juts out prominently, creating a broader, more rounded appearance.

Enlarged Chest

Rib flare often leads to an enlargement of the chest area. A more prominent appearance is due to the outward displacement of the lower ribs and the resulting increase in the width of the rib cage.

Flared Appearance of the Lower Chest

As the lower ribs flare out, it contributes to a distinctive flared appearance in the lower chest region, which is particularly noticeable if you are lying down or lifting your arms overhead. It may give the impression of a more open rib cage near your midline.

Exaggerated Back Arch

Rib flare causes an exaggerated arch in the back, specifically in the spine's lower back and lumbar region. This excessive curvature, referred to as hyperlordosis, is visually prominent and contributes to postural imbalances and pain.

The severity and degree of these physical signs and characteristics vary from person to person. In some individuals, rib flare is mild and subtle, with little to no visible evidence of issues. Others experience underlying conditions and other imbalances that can lead to lifelong chronic imbalances.

Potential Health Problems Associated with Rib Flare

Rib flare development leads to possible pain and discomfort due to the altered ribcage position and its surrounding impact on body composition. Some potential problems develop with this condition.

Muscular Discomfort

Abnormal positioning of the ribs can cause tension, strain, and imbalances in the muscles surrounding the rib cage. Muscle soreness, tightness, and discomfort, especially in the intercostal muscles, are found in the upper part of the back. 

Thoracic Pain

Rib flare contributes to thoracic pain in the middle and upper back regions. Altered alignment of the rib cage can put pressure and stress on the thoracic spine, resulting in muscle fatigue, tension, and inflammation.

Lower Back Issues

An exaggerated arch in the lower back associated with rib flare increases both load and stress on the lumbar spine. Lower back pain and discomfort and prevalent, and natural spinal curvature and alignment develop.

Rib Pain and Tenderness

Protrusion of the lower ribs causes them to press against adjacent structures, leading to rib pain and tenderness. This is particularly noticeable and uncomfortable when applying pressure or touching affected areas.

Breathing Difficulties

With severe cases of rib flare, the rib cage's abnormal positioning limits your lungs' ability to expand and breathe air fully. Shallow breathing decreases lung capacity, leaving you struggling to take deep, sufficient breaths.

Postural Discomfort

Rib flare goes hand and hand with postural abnormalities and deviations, such as rounded shoulders and anterior pelvic tilt. These imbalances cause strain on muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments throughout your entire body, contributing to a general discomfort when standing, sitting, or even lying down.

For some, rib flare affects body image and self-esteem. Visible protrusion of the lower ribs may be perceived as abnormal by societal norms of a flatter, more streamlined torso. Those with rib flare may feel self-conscious or dissatisfied with their appearance, particularly when contemplating wearing form-fitting clothing or participating in activities that draw attention to the torso.

Is Rib Flare Dangerous?

There are potential health risks and complications associated with untreated rib flare. While the condition is not inherently dangerous, allowing it to persist leads to several issues. 

Respiratory Difficulties

Severe rib flare impacts respiratory function. The abnormal position of the rib cage limits your lung capacity, prohibiting full, expansive breathing. You may suffer from shallow breathing and decreased oxygen intake. Over time, inadequate oxygenation of the body affects physical performance and brain function, contributing to breathlessness and subsequent panic.

Musculoskeletal Problems

Altered alignment and accommodation of the spine lead to additional strain on muscles, ligaments, and joints. This results in chronic pain, muscle tension, and an increased risk of injuries and illness due to spinal subluxations and imbalances.

Decreased Core Stability

Any abnormal spine or rib cage positioning leads to compromised core stability. The core muscles, including both abdominal and back muscles, are pivotal in providing support and stability to the spine. If core muscles are compromised, your spine and pelvic bones are also vulnerable to injury.

Impaired Organ Function

In the most severe cases, rib flare affects organ function. Misalignment of the spine and ribcage may exert pressure on internal organs, impacting their function and contributing to illness and disease. 

Once rib flare is discovered and diagnosed, seeking appropriate treatment and intervention is essential to minimize potential health risks. Addressing these underlying causes reduces your risk for illness and returns the body to a state of balanced well-being.

Harmless or Harmful? When Intervention and Treatment are Needed

Whether rib flare needs intervention depends on the condition's severity, associated symptoms, and impact on your life and daily activities. Consider these factors to help you decide when you may need intervention and treatment. 

Degree of Protrusion

Assess the extent of the rib flare. A mild protrusion is less concerning than severe rib flare with a visible outward arch. More significant protrusion often indicates a more pronounced deviation, which has more significant risks to your health.

Presence of Symptoms

Are you experiencing any symptoms associated with misalignment of the ribs or spine? If you experience musculoskeletal pain, respiratory issues, and persistent tension in the back, neck, and shoulders, you may be at risk for developing long-term conditions over time.

Impact on Daily Life

Think about how rib flare affects your daily life and function. If the condition significantly inhibits your ability to perform everyday tasks, limits your range of motion, or otherwise affects your quality of life, then intervention is needed.


Is your condition stable or worsening over time? If you have pre-existing skeletal concerns or feel your rib flare is worsening, consider seeking medical attention for professional evaluation and treatment options.

Professional Evaluation

Consulting a healthcare professional, such as a chiropractor or orthopedic specialist, provides valuable insight into your health and condition. Based on their findings, they assess your rib flare, identify underlying causes, and determine your best course of action. 

Pregnancy and Rib Flare

Before pregnancy, rib flare may already be present in some women due to skeletal structure, muscle imbalance, or poor posture. If you have pre-existing rib flare before pregnancy, it potentially raises your risk of experiencing discomfort as your body changes.

As your pregnancy progresses, hormonal changes, weight gain, and your growing uterus may impact the position and alignment of the rib cage. As your uterus and diaphragm shift to accommodate your growing child, it leads to sensations of aching, tightness, and difficulty with ribcage position, resulting in flare.

Many cases of pregnancy rib flare subside as the uterus reverts to its pre-pregnancy size. Some women, however, experience lingering after-effects of rib flare, most likely due to factors like weakened core muscles, abdominal muscle separation, and ongoing posture injuries and imbalances. Take these postpartum steps to address your rib flare concerns and improve your health.

  • Maintain postural awareness.

  • Implement exercises and stretches to improve posture and strength.

  • Wear supportive garments that hold in the abdominals.

  • Consider postnatal physical therapy.

Treatment Options for Rib Flare

While rib flare is a musculoskeletal condition, some medical interventions effectively address it, particularly when it causes discomfort and impairs daily function. Consider these options to make life more comfortable.

Physical Therapy

Working with a physical therapist specializing in musculoskeletal conditions is highly beneficial for most cases of rib flare. A physical therapist assesses your degree of flare, identifying any underlying causes and imbalances that exist. He then develops a customized treatment plan involving exercises, stretches, and manual therapy techniques to re-adjust and retrain the body to assume the correct posture.

Pain Management

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories help manage mild pain associated with rib flare. More severe or chronic pain may require prescription medication. Doctors prescribe these medications to alleviate acute and chronic discomfort, allowing you to seek additional healing methods.

Orthopedic Intervention

Consider orthopedic intervention in severe cases of rib flare, or when associated with other pre-existing conditions. Options such as bracing, orthotics, and other assistive devices support and align the rib cage and spine.


Exercise plays a crucial role in improving rib flare symptoms by addressing core muscular imbalance, promoting correct alignment, and strengthening the body overall. Approach rib flare exercise protocols with caution and tailored to meet individual needs.

It's a wise idea to remain under the supervision of a healthcare professional who can guide you through implementing these exercises with proper form, frequency, and weight, if necessary. Engage in these activities used to alleviate rib flare symptoms and correct postural imbalances.

Foam Roller with Lats

The latissimus dorsi muscles, commonly known as the lats, often experience tightness due to poor posture or prolonged sitting. This tension leads to a pulling of the pelvis, causing an extension of the lumbar spine and contributing to rib care flare. Using a foam roller is a simple and effective method for relieving tightness in the lats. 

Start by lying on an exercise mat and position yourself on your side. Provide stability by placing the arm closest to the floor in front of you. Position your foam roller between the floor and just below your armpit, targeting the area of tight lats.

Engage the core muscles and lift your hips off the ground. Slowly and deliberately roll the foam roller up and down along the lat muscles, taking care not to roll all the way down to the lower ribcage area. Complete two sets of 20 repetitions on each side.


The plank is a simple yet effective bodyweight exercise that targets the core muscles. Strengthening the core is essential for addressing rib flare issues, as any weakness contributes to its development. 

Lie face down on your floor or a yoga mat, resting on your forearms and toes. Position the elbows directly underneath your shoulders, and ensure your pelvis aligns with your shoulders.

Lift yourself on your forearms and toes, with your body in a plank position from head to toe as it hovers above the ground. Keep your legs straight and core tight as you hold this position for thirty seconds, then rest by lowering your body back down to the ground. Repeat the hold and rest pattern four to five times.

Arm Raises

Arm raises are a beneficial way to enhance shoulder mobility and range of motion. It also contributes to the development of lean muscle, improving the appearance of the anterior delts. All this upper body work contributes to greater core strength and a reduced risk of developing rib flare.

Sit down with your legs crossed and your back pressed flat against a wall. While keeping your entire back and head against the wall, slowly raise your arms up, maintaining straight arms throughout the movement. 

Tighten your core muscles throughout the exercise. Stop your arm motion once the backs of your hands touch the wall. Lower the arms back down to a resting position. Repeat this motion 10-15 times.

Corrective Yoga Stretching

Incorporating deep breathing techniques into a yoga practice is beneficial for realigning protruding ribs. In addition to its potential to alleviate rib flare, yoga offers several advantages, like stress reduction, improved sleep, and enhanced body strength. As you practice proper posture during yoga movements, you also experience relief from abdominal pressure, strengthen back and neck muscles, and improve shoulder mobility.

Child's pose is particularly effective in stretching the lats and back muscles while simultaneously lengthening and realigning your spine. Kneel on the floor or a yoga mat. Sit back on your heels, keeping your knees hip-width apart.

Lower your upper body forward, bending at the waist, until your torso rests on or between your thighs. Extend your arms forward, placing your palms flat on the floor, with your forehead resting on the mat.

Relax your shoulders, and allow your entire body to sink into the pose. Hold and breathe slowly for as long as the pose feels comfortable, around one to three minutes, or longer if desired.

Core Activation with Breathing

Intentional tightening of core muscles, combined with proper diaphragmatic breathing, is the best way to tighten up muscles that keep those wayward ribs in line. This exercise is easily performed by almost anyone, with many other benefits that reveal themselves with every subsequent session.

To perform core activation breathing, lie down on your back with your knees bent. Breathe in, ensuring that most of your breath comes from your diaphragm. As you breathe out, slowly push all the air out of your diaphragm and lungs.

Engage your core muscles when you are "empty," tightening and holding as long as you can comfortably do so. While maintaining this tightness, take a deep breath through the nose. Imagine that the whole circumference of your core is inflating, yet do not allow ribs to flare out while you breathe in.

Keep your chest and neck completely relaxed during these repetitions. Repeat ten times, or as long as it takes to become proficient at this movement.

Understanding and Proactive Treatment for Better Health

Knowing rib flare's causes and contributing factors is critical to developing effective management strategies. Exercise, proper posture, and professional treatment are essential pieces of the puzzle that help you achieve better alignment and, ultimately, a better quality of life.

Author and personal development specialist Michael Hyatt has this to say about prioritizing self-care: "You are in a much better position to serve others when your basic needs are met, and your tank is full."

Embrace your physical characteristics and seek support to manage your health proactively.

More tips and tricks for better fitness await you on FitnessCorner — come check it out!

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