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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Chiropractic Can Help with Rib Pain and Difficulty Drawing Breath: Musculoskeletal pain in the chest can be addressed without a trip to the emergency room, says Dr. Harlan Sparer

Nov 02, 2014 02:26PM ● By Dr. Harlan Sparer

A person with a pain in their chest and difficulty breathing a full breath may well end up in the emergency room, where doctors rule out a heart condition after a hospital stay, EKG, stress testing and the rest of the cardiac menu. They may then send them home, saying the episode was “musculoskeletal” in nature, after a great deal of insurance money and time were expended. After two Directional Non-Force Technique (DNFT) chiropractic adjustments, however, the problem could well have been solved.

Common biomechanical problems involve a complex of alignment issues, including rib alignment, vertebral alignment, disc bulges and small ligament and muscle alignment difficulties. When a vertebra in the thoracic area is subluxated, it rarely is “just a rib.” The ribcage limits movement and involves itself when vertebrae are affected and vice versa, subluxating along with it. The cartilaginous disc can create nerve pressure, as can the joint capsules between the ribs and vertebrae, as well as the joint capsules between the vertebrae. The narrow window where the spinal nerve exits is bordered by the disc and the nerve capsules. A subluxation in this region typically includes all of these structures, which causes swelling and thus, nerve impingement.

Vertebrae are subluxated when the joint surfaces are only partially touching. A dislocation, or luxation, occurs when the joint surfaces are not touching at all. Subluxations are characterized by inflammation of the vertebral joint capsules and bulging of the intervertebral disc. This combined swelling is the cause of nerve impingement. Nerve impingement in the thoracic region is typically characterized by one or more symptoms such as chest tightness, difficulty taking a deep breath, rib pain and radiating nerve pain along the course of a rib or ribs. Chiropractic adjustments correct subluxations.

The warning signs of a heart attack are at times mimicked by a thoracic subluxation, and there are ways to differentially diagnose this problem. If the pain is increased upon inhalation and decreases on exhalation, it is far more likely to be chiropractic in nature. If the pain is more right-sided, this increases the likelihood it is due to subluxation. If pressure on the spine or ribcage increases the symptoms, think musculoskeletal. Differential diagnosis for a structural problem is most competently performed by a chiropractic examination.

Thoracic subluxation is a great mimic of many other problems because of referred pain, which occurs when the cause of the symptom is different than the location of the symptom. An example of this is a gall bladder problem giving symptoms in the right shoulder.

Hippocrates said, “Above all, do no harm.” Many modern physicians believe this means to start with the least invasive method and increase the invasiveness of the procedures applied based on results and increased risk factors. Because chiropractic is relatively risk-free, it should be considered much earlier in the picture than it typically is.

Dr. Harlan Sparer is a DNFT chiropractor practicing in Tempe. He can be reached at 480-245-7894 or [email protected][email protected]m. For classes, recipes and videos, visit or

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