Slipping Rib Syndrome And Anxiety

Written by Jim Folk
Medically reviewed by Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated March 27, 2021

Question:

Lately, I've been experiencing a lot of pain in my left side that can be sharp, dull, and located anywhere from my ribs to my back. Today I discovered that one of my ribs on that side seems to pop out of place when pressure is applied. I fear that I may have slipped rib syndrome. Can anxiety cause a clicking/popping sensation in your ribs? Can the stress response lead to symptoms like this? Can anxiety cause slipping rid syndrome?

Answer

Slipping Rib Syndrome occurs when the ligaments holding the ribs in place move, which can cause the ribs to slip out of place.[1]

Slipping Rib Syndrome generally affects the eighth, ninth, or tenth ribs. These ribs are connected by fibrous tissue or ligaments that allow them greater movement and flexibility rather than connected to the more stable mid-chest bone.[2]

If the ligaments holding these ribs become weak or are injured, it can allow the ribs to slip or shift out of place causing pain. Constant slipping can cause inflammation resulting in an increase in pain.

Symptoms of Slipping Rib Syndrome

Common symptoms include:

  • Intermittent abdominal pain
  • Sudden sharp abdominal pain that fades or dulls over time
  • Back pain
  • “Popping” or “clicking” feelings in the ribs
  • A “slipping” feeling in the ribs
  • Diaphragm tension
  • Difficulty breathing, inability to take a deep breath
  • Pain when activities involve rib cage movement, such as bending, lifting, deep breathing, coughing, vomiting, standing up or sitting down, eating, stretching, walking up stairs, rolling over in bed, riding in a bouncing vehicle, etc.

Generally, slipping ribs occur on one side, but it can affect both at the same time if both sides become weak or injured.

Causes

At this time, the exact cause of slipping rib syndrome isn’t well understood. While trauma, injury, or surgery have been linked, other causes, such as  problems in the chest that lead to chest muscle weakness – excessive coughing, asthma, sinusitis (which causes nose blowing), and muscle degeneration – can play a role.[1][2]

Can anxiety cause slipping rib syndrome?

The stress and muscle tension caused by anxious behavior could play a role, as chest tension and stress can be a factor.[3] However, anxiety (or other mental illnesses) isn’t recognized as a cause at this time.

For diagnosis and treatment options, it’s best to discuss this symptom with your doctor.

Can slipping rib syndrome cause anxiety?

Anxiety is caused by apprehensive behavior. So, no, slipping rib syndrome doesn’t cause anxiety.

If you are worried about slipping rib syndrome or the pain it causes, however, that worry can cause anxiety since worry is an example of apprehensive behavior.

If you are having trouble with worry, especially about health and medical matters, working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist can help you overcome what seems like out of control worry.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist, coach, or counselor is the most effective way to address anxiety and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed – which we call the underlying factors of anxiety – a struggle with anxiety unwellness can return again and again. Dealing with the underlying factors of anxiety is the best way to address problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources

Return to our Anxiety Frequent Questions archive.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and therapy for anxiety disorder and its symptoms, including Slipping Rib Syndrome and Anxiety.

References

1. Udermann, Brian, et al. "Slipping Rib Syndrome in a Collegiate Swimmer: A Case Report." Journal of Athletic Training, Apr-Jun 2005, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1150226/

2. Kahn, Noman Ahmed Jan, et al. "Slipping Rib Syndrome in a Female Adult with Longstanding Intractable Upper Abdominal Pain." Hindawi, Nov 2017, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crim/2018/7484560/

3. Hauser, Ross. “Caring Medical Regenerative Medicine Clinics.” Caring Medical Regenerative Medicine Clinics, 2019, www.caringmedical.com/prolotherapy-news/slipping-rib-syndrome/.