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Injury Spotlight: Rib Sprain

Updated: May 20, 2023

30th May, 2020

Other than the battering of bruises that we all get when begin pole dancing, a rib sprain, known as a ‘costovertebral joint sprain’ is the first true injury I tend to see that stops beginner pole dancers in their tracks. Most commonly occurring from an incorrect straddle/invert technique, this injury can be NASTY!! It can even pop up later down the track for the more advanced pole dancers . Common symptoms include:

  • Pain on one side of the upper back

  • Pain may refer around the chest wall or to the front of the chest mimicking signs of a heart attack

  • Pain with deep breathing, sneezing and/or coughing, as well as pain over the injured site

  • Muscle spasms/hypertonicity around the injury

  • Tenderness on touch over the costovertebral joint

Let’s briefly dive into the anatomy … There are several joints in the spine but the rib joint is formed with two joints where it articulates to the body of the thoracic vertebrae and the transverse process shown in the figure below.

How this injury occurs.. When we straddle with incorrect technique (figure 2) our latissimus dorsi, rhomboids & trapezius muscles are not correctly engaged which lead them to become over stretched. This can even lead to an acute muscle strain of these muscles. However more commonly, an incorrectly performed an invert places our upper back in a position of loaded flexion. This exerts significant force on our passive structures of the spine such as the joints, joint capsule and surrounding ligaments, and can lead to what we term a ‘rib sprain’. Local inflammation and muscle spasm of the surrounding muscles quickly follows this injury making it difficult and quite painful to breathe or move the upper back (thoracic spine).

Causes of a costovertebral joint sprain include:

  • Forceful or excessive coughing

  • Prolonged thoracic flexion

  • Overuse – excessive flexion, lifting, reaching or twisting

  • Training/exercise with incorrect technique

Ouch! I’ve just done this injury, what can I do to help??? Quickly get yourself in to see your physiotherapist or book an online appointment with myself to guide you on how to best recover from this injury! You can also ice or heat pack through a thin towel to assist (blog coming on this topic soon!), chat to your pharmacist about over the counter pain relief and avoid positions of flexion or coughing.

How will a Physio help?? Depending on your diagnosis, the extent of the injury and a few other factors Physios are able to:

  • Educate you on the extent of your injury and how to prevent this from reoccurring in the future

  • Teach you how to best rehab your injury

  • Provide or teach you how to perform immediate pain relieving techniques such as taping, joint mobilisation & self release

How long will this pain last for? When you seek out a visit with a Physiotherapist, the pain won’t last as long. The recovery time of a costovertebral joint sprain varies between pole dancers and is completely dependant on compliance with your tailored management program. With correct treatment, majority of the pain will resolve within 2-4 weeks, however the area of injury will take between to 6-12 weeks to restore it’s original strength. To prevent re-injury, care must be taken when returning to pole and should be guided by a healthcare professional.

How can I prevent this from occurring again in the future?? Well the bad news unfortunately is that once you’ve sustained an injury, you do have a higher risk of re-injuring it. The good news however is that you can work on the issue what caused you to injure it in the first place! This is where it’s important to make sure you are engaging your shoulder muscles correctly & keeping a straight back when you are inverting (as shown in Figure 3 & 4).

Not sure how to do this?? Then check out my ‘Anatomy of a Straddle’ blog and the Straddle exercise blogs (Unlock your Straddle & Level-Up your Straddle) for ideas on how to work on this.

Still having issues? Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.

Until next time, train safe!

The Pole Physio



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