What is it?
A costochondral separation is an injury to the ribcage that is relatively common in combat sports. It is sometimes called a “separated rib” or a “dislocated rib”.
The ribs are connected to the sternum (breastbone) by bands of cartilage. Sometimes the bone can become detached from this cartilage. It is a similar injury in some respects to a fractured rib, but it often takes longer to heal fully.
What does it feel like?
You may feel a pop when the injury happens. Afterwards, there is pain and tenderness at the place of injury. It may also hurt to cough, sit up, twist the body or even breathe. It may be possible to feel a bony lump or “step” in the rib itself where the bone and cartilage have slipped apart.
How does it happen?
Rib separations may occur from impact from a punch or a kick, or from pressure on the ribcage during grappling. Another cause of the injury is from sudden twisting movements of the torso, especially when combined with pressure. Fighters often report that the injury occurred while trying to escape from a hold.
What’s the treatment?
It is important to seek medical advice if you are concerned about a rib injury, as some fractures may need immediate treatment. This is especially true if you are in a lot of pain, having difficulty breathing, or feeling otherwise unwell.
The main treatment for a rib separation is rest. It can take up to two to three months to heal and during this time it is important to avoid pressure on the chest, or excessive movement of the rib cage. A doctor will often prescribe painkillers to help reduce pain so that the patient can breathe normally. It’s important to be aware that with this injury, you can’t just “pop it back into place”, and you shouldn’t try.
In the case of ongoing or recurring problems, it’s worth considering factors such as spinal mobility, breathing mechanics and abdominal muscle strength. A physiotherapist or osteopath who is experienced with sports injuries may be able to help.
What long term problems is it likely to cause?
Often, people with this injury will be left with a bump where the bone and cartilage have come back together. Sometimes there will be ongoing pain in the area, but this is less likely to become a problem if the person avoids too much movement and pressure on the chest while the injury is healing.
All articles on Combat Sports Clinic are for information only and not a substitute for appropriate medical care. If you have an injury, we strongly recommend that you consult a qualified doctor, osteopath or physiotherapist for advice about your particular situation.