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What Are the Ribs?

The ribs are the bones of the skeletal structure that protect the vital organs contained in the chest cavity. In total, there are 24 ribs in the body. Men and women generally have the same number of ribs, sometimes an extra cervical rib is found in less than one per cent of people, mostly women.

12 ribs are connected to form a cage, the thoracic cage or the ribcage which contributes to the body’s shape. The ribcage surrounds mostly the lungs and is part of the respiratory system. It also supports the shoulders by holding the pectoral girdle up.

The first seven pairs of ribs are called the true ribs. They are each attached at their different ends to the breastbone and then to the spine or back bone. The next five pairs of ribs are the false ribs, which are much shorter. The first three pairs of false ribs are also attached to the spine but not the breastbone. They are however connected to the lowest pair of true ribs. The last pair of ribs are the floating ribs. They only connect to the spine in the back and no other part of the ribcage in the front.

Since the lungs are the biggest organ that the ribs protect, when breathing, the ribs also move. Inhalation of air expands the ribcage upwards and outwards, whilst exhalation contracts the ribcage. The heart and parts of the stomach, kidneys and spleen are also protected by the ribcage. A broken rib can puncture any of these vital organs.

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