Apex Performance Centre

Costovertebral Joint Sprain: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Costovertebral Pain

There are several joints in the spine such as the  intervertebral joints and the costovertebral joints. The joints that are formed between thoracic vertebrae and ribs are called costovertebral joints. In sports injuries, sometimes ligaments or cartilage that supports the joints may be damaged. Compressive or stretching forces can act on costovertebral joints whenever there is any movement involving the rib cage and the spine.

Costovertebral Sprain


Common symptoms include:

  • Sneezing, deep breathing and coughing causes pain
  • Slight movement of the spine, either side bending or twisting, causes pain
  • Movement in the thoracic spine is decreased
  • Joint is tender to palpation
  • Usually pain in the spine is concentrated on one side and can radiate to the chest and/or shoulder blade


Costovertebral joint injuries commonly occur due to sudden and spontaneous movement of the spine which involves arching or over-extending of the spine, bending, or twisting. Most commonly, these injuries occur because of repetitive movements of the thoracic spine, especially bending and twisting activities.

The joint where a flat part (section) of the body of the thoracic vertebra meets the end or apex of the rib is called the Costovertebral Joint. Cartilage present in between these bones acts as a cushion at the joint and at the same time ligaments act as a bond and holds these bones together. A sports injury can damage this bond.

In any activity involving movement of the spine, both torsional and compressive forces act on the joint. When the impact of forces is more than the normal acceptable capacity of the joint that it can sustain, then the joint structure, cartilage or ligament will be damaged. The head of the rib maybe dislocated in some cases.

Contributing factors include:

  • Below mentioned factors should be assessed by the medical professional or physical therapist
  • Sudden lifting of load without using proper technique
  • Poor or improper posture
  • Tightness or weakness of muscles
  • A lifestyle which is sedentary
  • Weak core stability
  • Work activities that involve constant lifting, sitting or bending

Treatment and Prognosis

Usually in minor cases, costovertebral joint sprains will heal on their own without medical intervention when proper care is taken. Common treatment includes:

  • Initially RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment should be tried at home. This will help in reducing pain and swelling. 15-20 minutes once in every four hours is usually suggested.
  • Refrain immediately from activity that is the cause of pain.
  • After the pain and inflammation subsides, gentle mobility exercises like side bending movement and twisting motions are recommended in order to keep the joint mobility intact and also to prevent joint stiffness

How Apex Can Help

The health professionals at the Apex Centre are well equipped to help you recover from costovertebral joint sprain. Once pain and inflammation subsides, regaining of strength and going back to normal daily activities is very important. We will provide strengthening and mobilization exercises designed to strengthen surrounding muscles and prevent a recurrence of the condition.