Ribs are one of the most unique bones in the body. It is strong enough to protect your organs yet flexible enough to expand and contract as your lungs grow. However, not many of us actually know much about bone. How many ribs do we have in the human body?
Humans have 24 rib bones, 12 on each side. About 1 in 500 humans have more than 24 ribs, called supernumerary ribs. Some humans may also be born with fewer rib bones, although rare. Men and women have a similar number of rib bones.
In this article, we explore ribs. We look at how many ribs are in the human body and other questions related to ribs. For example, we look at if men and women have the same number of ribs and if broken ribs heal.
What Are Rib Bones?
Rib bones are flat bones that form part of the rib cage. The rib cage partially protects the chest cavity, where many important organs are located. These organs include the heart, lungs, spleen, and more.
It also allows space for breathing to happen – as the lung is filled with air, the rib opens up to give the lungs the space to expand. Once exhalation happens, the rib cage reverts back to its original shape.
The rib cage is basically formed by a series of long, flat, and curved bones. These bones connect to the vertebrae (backbone) and sternum (chest bone) through costal cartilage. The costal cartilage allows the rib bones to be flexible and expand when we draw air into our lungs.
When you look at the rib cage, there are 12 bones on each side. Bones 1 to 7 are called true ribs because they are connected to the spine and also to the sternum directly through costal cartilage. Each rib bone contains its own costal cartilage that connects it to the sternum.
Bones 8-12 are called false ribs because they are not connected directly to the sternum. They usually share costal cartilage, which then connects the bone to the sternum. Bones 11 and 12 are also called floating ribs, as they do not connect to the sternum or costal cartilage.
Every rib bone can be broken down into three parts: the head, neck, and body.
Head Of The Rib
The head of the rib is the part of the bone next to the vertebra. It is usually wedge-shaped. The rib bone connects to the vertebrae with two costovertebral joints. One of the joints connects to the immediate corresponding spine, while the other connects to the spine above.
Neck Of The Rib
The neck of the rib extends laterally from the head. It is essentially flattened bones, about 3 CM (1.18 inches) long. The front of the bone is flat and smooth, while the back can be a little rough, so ligaments can attach to it.
Body Of The Rib
The body of the rib can also be called the shaft. The internal surface of the body usually has groove lines and connects to the thorax.
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How Many Ribs Are In The Human Body?
There are 24 rib bones in the human body. However, about 1 in 500 humans have more than 24 ribs, called supernumerary ribs. Men and women have a similar number of rib bones.
In general, most humans are born with 24 rib bones, 12 on each side. These bones connect to the spine, with some connection to the sternum (chest bone) via the costal cartilage.
However, some humans may have more than 24 rib bones, with about 1 in 500 people born with that. This condition is called the supernumerary ribs. The additional rib bone usually grows at the 7th vertebra from the neck. This additional rib bone is called the cervical (neck) rib.
People commonly have grown a pair of cervical rib bones, meaning they will have 26 rib bones. However, it is not uncommon to see people growing only a single cervical rib.
There are also cases of people growing additional rib bones from the lumbar spine, right below rib number twelve. But these are very rare, with about 1% of the population.
Having an additional spine usually does not cause any specific medical symptoms. However, as these bones grow, they may press or constrict nerves or blood vessels, causing a condition known as Thoracic outlet syndrome. It is usually accompanied by numbness, pain, or weakness in the shoulder, arm, or neck.
Aside from having additional ribs, some people may not have all 24 rib bones. This is a condition called agenesis of the ribs. This could happen when two rib bones do not separate or when the floating ribs are absent.
Can You Be Born Without Ribs?
There are rare cases of babies born with malformed spine and ribs, a condition called Spondylocostal Dysplasia. The ribs may be missing or fused together in a chaotic pattern. Infants suffering from this condition usually have trouble breathing. However, with treatment, most infants survive into adulthood.
It may be far-fetched to have people born without a single rib bone. However, a more common condition is Spondylocostal Dysplasia. Infants born with this condition usually have a malformed spine and rib bones.
The ribs may be missing rib bones or may be fused together in a chaotic pattern. The rib bones may also be misaligned, split, or forked. This means they still have ribs, which may not look normal. The conditions and severity of the malformation may differ by case.
Usually, infants born with Spondylocostal Dysplasia may have difficulty breathing since their thoracic cavity may be smaller than usual. At times, the breathing difficulty may be severe and life-threatening.
Depending on the cases, treatments for infants with this condition include:
- Reconstructing the rib bones through surgery.
- Placing expendable titanium prosthetic ribs (VEPTR).
- Therapies to help the infant to breathe well.
With proper treatment, therapy, and care, most infants born with Spondylocostal Dysplasia usually survive into adulthood.
Do Men and Women Have a Similar Number of Rib Bones?
In general, men and women have the same number of ribs. The incorrect assumption that men have fewer rib bones than women may be related to a biblical story. In the Bible, Torah, and Quran, Eve (the first woman) was made from Adam’s (the first man) rib bone.
Contrary to common beliefs, men and women have the same rib bones. 24 bones, with 12 on each side. This, however, discards the people who may have supernumerary ribs or agenesis of the ribs.
In fact, when it comes to having supernumerary ribs (additional rib bones), women are more likely to have that than men.
The common belief that men have fewer rib bones than women may have arisen from the Biblical story of the creation of Adam and Eve. They are the first man and women. The story is also told similarly in the Torah and the Quran.
The story mentions that after Adam was created in a single day, God created Eve to be his mate and for Adam to love and care for. Eve was created by taking one of Adam’s rib bones.
The story may have been believed by many worldwide, but science seems to have a different answer to it.
What Happens When Ribs Break?
When ribs break, they may cause general pain and discomfort or be life-threatening. This is because if you have multiple rib fractures, your rib cage may not be able to function well, causing breathing difficulty. Broken bones can also puncture into your pleural cavity, causing your lungs to collapse.
Ribs generally do not break easily, as they are designed to protect vital organs. However, they may cause mild to very serious, even life-threatening, human conditions when they break.
True ribs generally have a stronger, sound structure, as they are connected to the vertebrae and the sternum. This means it rarely breaks unless the impact is very strong.
The same could be said about the floating ribs. Since it only extends from the spine and does not connect to anything else, it is very flexible. This means it is less likely to take on the full brunt of any impact on the chest region.
In the event of a chest impact, the rib bones that are likely to break are usually 7-10. This is because it lacks the strength of rib bones 1-6, connected straight to the sternum. At the same time, they may not have the flexibility of the floating ribs (11-12).
In many cases, any direct impact on the chest due to automobile or motorcycle accidents, falls, or other situations tend to cause rib bone fractures. In fact, 10% or so chest trauma cases usually involve fractured rib bones.
If one rib bone breaks, you may usually feel a generic sensation of pain, especially when the area where the bone breaks is touched. The pain may be elevated if you breathe or cough.
If more rib bones are broken, you may suffer from a medical condition called flail chest. This can be a life-threatening condition. This is because when ribs are broken in succession at one place, they will fail to keep to their shape when it expands or contract. As a result, breathing becomes a more laborious task.
Another concern is that these broken bones may have sharp edges, which means they may easily puncture into the pleural cavity. This means air may enter the cavity, causing the lungs to collapse. This condition is also called pneumothorax. Breathing may not even be possible at this stage. Without breathing support, you may die.
Do Broken Ribs Heal?
Broken ribs generally heal on their own after about six weeks. Restricting activity and also regularly icing the area may help to manage the pain and help it to heal faster. Patients may also need painkillers over the healing period, as well as breathing therapy, to avoid pneumonia.
The human body is very resilient and capable of healing itself, provided that you care for it. The same could be said about managing broken rib bones.
Usually, when you are admitted to the hospital with broken ribs, a doctor may first stabilize your breathing and keep you alive. This may be important if you enter the hospital displaying conditions such as pneumothorax.
Once stabilized, the doctor may see the extent of the broken ribs. The doctor may conduct an X-Ray, MRI, or CT scan.
Depending on the nature of your fracture, different scanning techniques may work better. For example, for regular chest impact, an X-Ray should do well. However, with stress fractures from, say, repeated coughing, a bone scan may work better.
Once confirmed, the doctor or nurse may now perform some procedures to help you recover from your condition. These may include:
Regular icing helps to numb the nerves around the fractured area, which may help with the pain. When icing, you may not want to ice too directly. Constant direct icing may damage the skin and nerves, causing more issues.
One of the major issues with broken ribs is that as the bones heal, you still need to breathe. This means you may constantly be in pain, especially when you inhale. As a result, many doctors will usually prescribe painkillers to help you deal with it.
Suppose the pain is unbearable even when stronger pills have been given. In that case, your doc may give you painkiller injections that may last longer. These injections are usually made around the fractured bone area.
Due to pain, many recovering from fractured ribs may result in shallow breathing to avoid the pain that may come if they breathe deeply. It may be a temporary strategy, but if done long-term, it may not be good.
This is because constant shallow breathing may cause you to develop pneumonia. As such, your doctor may prescribe you some breathing exercises to help you.
Another thing your doctor may advise you is to limit any activity control while your ribs are healing. This is because broken rib bones may be sharp, and any movement may cause it to puncture your pleural cavity, causing collapsed lungs.
Another issue with moving around with a broken rib bone is the pain. Especially if you have to breathe a little harder as you are actively moving. It may be wise to rest in bed until your physician gives you the green light to resume an active lifestyle.
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Can You Remove Your Ribs?
You can remove your rib bones. Many people have removed part of their rib bones for medical or aesthetic reasons. Rib bones may be removed when they fracture to prevent them from puncturing lungs and organs. Cancerous rib bones can also be removed. Rib bones may also be removed to simulate a slim, long waist.
The human rib bones can be removed, usually through surgery. There are multiple reasons why some people may opt to remove some of the rib bones. Removal of all rib bones is usually a bad idea as it means there will be no rib bones to protect your organs.
Speed Up Healing Time
In the case of broken ribs, some people may prefer to have the rib bone removed. This is because waiting for the rib bone to heal may take time, and some just want to move on quickly and not spend time bedridden, waiting for the rib bone to heal.
Avoid Puncturing Organs
In some situations, doctors may see more sense in removing the rib bone. This is especially true if removing the rib bone helps prevent potential puncture in the pleural cavity or other organs.
Avoid Cancer From Spreading
Rib bones can become cancerous. In this situation, removing the rib bone may help to prevent cancer from spreading and avoid further complications. Parts or more of the rib bone may be removed, depending on the severity of cancer.
Rib bones may be removed to use for bone grafts. Rib bones may be selected, as removing a single rib may not cause any major medical issues.
Simulate A Slim, Long Waist
Some society prefers to showcase a slender, slim, long waist. This could be achieved by removing the lower ribs to create an illusion of a longer, slimmer waist.
Other Aesthetic Reasons
Rib bones can also be removed for some odd reasons. Some celebrities are known to have removed their ribs for publicity. Marilyn Manson was rumored to have removed his lower rib bones so he could perform autofellatio.
Can Removed Rib Bones Regrow?
Human beings are known to be able to regrow rib bones after removing them. Medical research observed that 8cm of removed rib bones and 1cm of cartilage regrown back after six months.
We may not be able to regenerate by Deadpool, but in many ways, parts of us regrow back, such as our rib bones.
Scientists have observed that even when rib bones and cartilage are removed, they regrow back. In this study, they discovered that 8cm of removed ribs and 1cm of cartilage actually regrow after removal.
To further confirm this observation, scientists even removed rib bones from a mammal very similar to us, mice. Mice are usually used to simulate human beings in the lab since they are genetically and anatomically similar to humans.
These scientists removed bones and cartilage from the mice’s ribs and observed any signs of regrowth. When both the rib bone was removed together with their surrounding tissue (called perichondrium), the bones did not heal.
However, when the bone was removed, but the perichondrium was not, there was a regrowth of rib bones. In fact, the entire section regenerated completely in two months, meaning as if no bones were removed.