Pain with breathing can be alarming. You can feel it at the nape of the neck at the back, in the girdle distribution around the side of the chest cage and you can also feel it where the rib joins the breastbone at the front.
Each rib moves like a bucket handle lifting up and down off the rim of the bucket as we breathe in and out. The synchronous movement of all the ribs inflates and deflates chest and brings about gaseous exchange in the lungs. Each rib must be fully mobile and springy so that breathing can be as free as possible.
Being tired, unfit, physically overwrought, or in some other way below par, can make it easier to 'rick' a rib and give you upper back pain when breathing.
In the video above Sarah Key explains all about the way the thoracic spine, the chest and the ribs work – delicately notching into the sides of the vertebrae - and how you can mobilise and strengthen your upper back yourself. You can download the video here.
If you inadvertently twist or jar a rib, the intercostal muscles will develop an automatic protective clench to hold the rib still. This is known as muscle spasm. If the muscle stays switched on for too long it makes the problem rib more rigid, so that it feels a hard prominent ridge. You will feel the rib is 'caught' and if you take a deep breath you will get a sudden grab of pain.