Rib injury, popped rib? intercostal strain? Ahhh the mystery…

Well it was inevitable…I am back on the injured reserve list.

I was rolling with a particularly strong partner in jiu jitsu last night, he was attempting to grab my arm for an arm bar which I was fighting with my body with good positioning so I didn’t feel like I was in any real danger.  He was on his stomach trying to roll me over and I was half sitting up and feeling safe because I had a lot of leverage.  All of a sudden he stretched out against my ribs in an attempt to pull my arm free and I felt my ribs slide and pop.  It actually felt like one of my ribs were getting twisted around but I’m pretty sure that’s not possible.  I yelled out in pain and when my partner let go my it felt like my ribs flipped around a few more time before settling.  Needless to say that was the end of open mat for this guy.

On the drive home my ribs “popped” a few more times which took my breath away.  Of course I iced and took some ibuprofen and did a little “googling” before going to bed.

It looks to be a fairly common injury in BJJ, one that seems to take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks of rest before getting back to 100%.  I tried to test my limits this morning at the gym and found its really difficult to do anything with a rib injury.  I probably will not be going to the gym for the rest of the week.  I do not plan on going to the doctor because everything I’ve read says that a doctor cannot and will not do much for a rib injury unless it is really serious, plus my general practitioner gives me a really blank look when I explain my injuries  (I really have to find a sports medicine doctor!).

The rib has popped at least four times this morning, twice when I was trying to get into my car and twice at the gym when I was trying to get up from laying down on the ground.  I am continuing to ice and trying to move around as little as possible at this point in my rehab.  My plan is to completely rest for at least 2 to 3 days before going back to the gym and stretching and maybe doing a little light cardio to loosen up and test my range of motion.

I definitely don’t want to re-injure and have a long term injury with rib protrusions I have been reading on some forums!

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy July 13, 2014 at 2:23 pm

I’m fairly certain the 6 week repair time may be because it takes 6 weeks for a bone to fuse. This is where frustration sets in because just because the bone has fused, it doesn’t mean the pain will subside at that time. I have had 5 knee surgeries and a spinal fusion and was told the 6 week repair story. Only to find when mentioning I was still in pain months later that it could take a year or more for the pain to go away. So, hang in there. One surgery took at least a year and a half before I could comfortably walk up stairs again. Repair time and pain time can have 2 different timeframes. Yesterday, I heard a pop from my lower right rib while rolling on the floor trying to take a photo from a different perspective. I had both hands on the camera so all my weight was on my ribcage. I guess I wasn’t thinking. My side is really hurting through to my back now and had a really difficult time finding a comfortable position to sleep. Rolling to get out of bed this morning nearly took my breath away. I’m considering myself lucky as I’m not having continual popping like many of you, just that one big pop. Moving around today is presenting some problems so I googled and found myself here. Thanks for all your posts. It seems there really isn’t much that can be down so I guess I have to wait it out. :( Best wishes to all of you.


Matty007 May 17, 2014 at 10:37 am

I tell you what. It is so nice to find posts like this online. I have been suffering with what sounds like the same injury for 19MONTHS!!!!

I did mine snowboarding. I didn’t fall, just went over a little hump, and as I compressed the other side (landed if I had left the ground) my body was twisted over to the right. I heard that loud familiar POP and was immediately winded. It felt horrible although not painful. I found that if I stretched my left arm straight up and then back, I could get a pop which then allowed me to breath comfortably again, but just trying to sit up to continue boarding and it popped out again leaving be breathless. Getting down the mountain was a long frightening struggle. It kept popping out and I had no idea what was going on. Seemed pretty serious despite there being no pain so was quite frightened. Thankfully was snowboarding with my bro who’s a doctor who explained that whatever the injury is, there’s very little chance it will puncture a lung as a snapped rib would be hurting like hell and it wasn’t. We were guessing at a dislocated rib.

Next day I got an x-ray which showed nothing at all. I sat out the rest of the week, went home and then immediately went on a course for a week. During this time my rib was popping all the time. From turning the tap on in the shower to just lying in bed it would just pop out randomly. By the time I saw the gp and then the consultant I had found some creative ways to get out of bed, cough, sit down, etc and I was able to prevent it popping out again, although for each of these visits I offered to pop it out as a demonstration (both doctors declined). So that was about a month on… It hadn’t popped for a coupe of weeks but I really felt like I could pop it on command. Following on from numerous visits to the consultant I had:

An ultrasound which showed an obvious step in the cartilage area front lower left of rib cage about 2inchs left and 2inches below the sternum. At which point they suggested that the cartilage had broken and 1 bit was now sitting on top of another. Short of major surgery which would likely be unsuccessful anyway, the best thing to do was just give it time and see how it heals.

Another US scan. Different radiologist. He couldn’t see the step the previous guy had pointed out… The one u can see with ur eyes just from looking at the area.

A spect/ct which I didn’t spend much time looking at myself, but couldn’t really see the cartilage in the ct bit. The spect bit showed a very small blip of bone regeneration activity on the area, which tells us that something is trying to repair.

Next thing I know they have given me an ultrasound led cortisone injection in the area which I was told would give me immediate relief from the pain. It didn’t. In fact it was quite swollen and sore for 4 days, and felt loose like the rib could pop out again. It is now 4 days later (or 15months after the accident) and my damned rib is still sore. Doctor doesn’t know what to do. Everything I found online suggests that this is a common injury in matrial arts, but most say that it is a career ending injury. I’m 28years old and not willing to give up on this yet. I still want to learn kickboxing, go bungee jumping, play contact sports, etc etc. I can’t do these things while my body is telling me it’s unsafe. I’m really hoping by posting this someone who has had the same injury managed to find a permanent solution will reply to the post. There must be a way to bond cartilage!?

Thanks for reading.



admin May 18, 2014 at 11:43 am

Wow Matty,

It seems unusual that a separated rib would take 15 months, perhaps there is something else going on?

I’m glad you found my posts helpful but I had a much easier experience (in hindsight; it was terrible while i was going through it) that you are experiencing.

The 6 week mark that I kept reading about when I was researching the injury was pretty spot on so yours may be a separate issue.

Or maybe you kept pushing it too hard and kept trying to do the same intensity in your daily activities?

In any case, I really hope you find relief!

Good luck in your recovery!


Matty007 May 21, 2014 at 8:21 am

Hi again,
Thank you so much for getting back to me. That is very encouraging. So you know when your rib was “popping”, did it just make a popping noise, or did it properly pop out of position leaving you breathless each time? If the latter then what did you have to do to get it back in place? Stretches? Or did it naturally pop back by itself?
To me it feels like there is a particular muscle inside which pulls directly on that part of my rib whether it’s a break in the cartilage there, or just swelling from a dislocation, it certainly still feels weak.
Are there any specific exercises you know of that would help strengthen the area ? Do you still have a residual lump now? Did you at any point? Do you know what the lump is? It’s quite hard so I assume it’s a bit of cartilage out of place but seems like everyone get the lump…

All the best,



admin May 21, 2014 at 11:03 am

Hi Matty,

No problem!

Yes the rib felt like it was “popping” out but that feeling only lasted for a week i believe. It was very painful so I was being very careful in my movements.

If you read through my posts you will see that I did very light stretching every morning at the gym. I did not do anything that could cause the rib to “pop”

Yes I still have a small lump where the separation happened but it does not cause me any discomfort.

Like I said in my previous post your injury sounds a bit more severe. Are you cutting back on your physical activities?

Good luck!


Belinda April 25, 2014 at 5:57 pm

My was popped by a common bear hug. I heard two pops then the pain kicked in. Mine popped at the top under the breast. Whenever I move my arm or stand up I hear the grinding and feel it. The downside of me taking painkillers, is it causes gall stone attacks which makes it worse. So a word of warning. Be careful with your bear hugs.


Ricky April 15, 2014 at 4:36 am

I got rib injury too, same as the author got injured. I did not train for 15 days, so now i can endure the pain when getting up from bed and laughing. Is it okay to start training in kickboxing or weight lifting, until my rib heals 100% then i can start training in Jiujitsu again?


admin April 15, 2014 at 5:55 am

Hey Ricky,

Of course I don’t know the extent of your injury but kickboxing or even weightlifting doesn’t seem like a good idea. I was not a 100% till after 6 weeks and I would hate for you to get re-injured, but if you are listening to your body and it says it is ok I would do very very light workouts.

Good luck in your recovery!


Mike March 24, 2014 at 3:31 pm

Separated a rib on my right side last September when a wrench slipped and I fell against the lugs of a tractor tire. Three days ago, I separated the ribs on my left side while leaning over a wooden fence attempting to pump diesel into a container. When it popped, I rolled to my right and the right side popped as well. I have noticed that the right side has noticeably less pain and am wondering if there is nerve damage when one experiences costochondral separation and if reoccurrence is more likely to occur as is the case with ankle sprains.


admin April 11, 2014 at 6:18 am

You separated both sides?!?!

That sounds incredibly painful and very restricting. I have not had any issues with nerves, just a small bulge on the side I separated.Good luck in your recovery!


Dave December 2, 2013 at 10:02 pm

Great to see these comments, popped my bottom rib out of the cartilage – kitesurfing belt rode up and I got slammed in a wind gust. Blunt force trauma. Day 9 for me – rib stopped popping in and out on day 5. Trying hard to keep the body straight & not rotate so I dont get another pop.
Used ice to start then hot and cold packs alternate to o get the tissue back and blood flowing in the area to support the rib against the cartilage while it gels back together.
Anybody think recovery time will improve from continuing the odd ice packs from day 9?
and missed out on JJitsu and Karate grading because of it …….
Want to be back on the kite on day 28……


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