What is the Rib Cage?

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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2019
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In humans, the rib cage is located in the upper body and consists of 24 bones that serve the purpose of protecting many vital organs. These 24 bones are divided into two sections of 12 on both sides of the body. The heart, lungs, and parts of the stomach are all located inside the rib cage. It is sometimes referred to as the thoracic cage because it is a major part of the thoracic cavity in the human body. In addition to protecting vital organs, the rib cage also helps a person breathe properly.

There are 12 ribs and 12 vertebrae that make up the thoracic cage. These bones are all slightly curved in shape and are connected to the spinal column. The ribs that are attached directly to the sternum are known as true ribs. Ribs that are not connected to the sternum are called false ribs and are attached to the true ribs. The bottom two ribs are attached directly to the spine and are known as floating ribs.

When a person inhales, the ribs are lifted up by muscles. This gives the lungs enough room to expand so they can take in enough air. The ribs lay back down on top of the lungs when a person exhales. This action presses the lungs inward and helps push air out.


The rib cage is inside a section of the body called the thoracic cavity. This cavity contains the digestive system, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system. It also contains the nervous system and lymphatic system. This cavity is the second largest one in the entire human body. The largest cavity is the ventral cavity, which encloses the thoracic and abdominopelvic cavities.

Some signs of injury to the ribs or rib cage are trouble breathing, muscle spasms, and intense pain. It is also not uncommon to actually hear crunching noises coming from the ribs as they move. In most cases, rib injury is related to blunt force trauma. The first nine ribs are usually the ones most likely to be affected. Prompt medical attention is important for most types of rib injuries.

Doctors are typically not able to set ribs in a cast like they can when other bones are injured or broken. Most of the time, doctors prescribe strong pain killers and instruct the patient to rest as much as possible. The ribs typically heal faster if they are not moved excessively; excessive movement also could increase the risk of further injury. It may take up to 12 weeks for the ribs or rib cage to heal completely, depending on the type of injury sustained.


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Post 1

The two floating ribs at the bottom of the rib cage have a tendency to move according to certain pressures during a person's life. For example, when women wore corsets, the ribs actually moved within the body on a permanent basis to accommodate for the extra pressure. In current times, some professional models choose to have the bottom one or two rows of ribs surgically removed as they don't have a biological function and may help them appear thinner.

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