How many times do you cue proper rib-cage placement to clients or class attendees? And when you do, how often can students immediately understand your directions and find neutral posture from a flared rib position? More likely, awareness is lacking—you see some confusion—and if you assess technique on a regular basis, you no doubt notice how much dysfunction occurs in the thoracic region.

The rib cage protects the chest cavity, including the heart and lungs, and consists of long, curved bones with connections to the spinal vertebrae. Many rib bones connect to the sternum with costal cartilage, which are “segments of hyaline cartilage that allow the rib cage to expand during respiration” (Healthline 2015). The rib cage includes 12 paired rib bones. The first seven pairs are “true” and are connected to the costal cartilage. Of the other five sets, referred to as “false” (Healthline 2015), three connect to noncostal cartilage, and two are “floating” because they connect only to the spine.

Justin Price, MA, creator of The BioMechanics Method, which provides corrective exercise education for fitness professionals, says that while the rib cage serves many important functions, including “increasing the surface area of the torso so that upper-body muscles have an origin and an insertion,” its most important job is to help us breathe effectively.

“Due to musculoskeletal imbalances, stress, respiratory conditions, disease and injury, the primary muscles that expand and contract the rib cage (diaphragm and intercostals) can become weak and ineffective,” says Price. “As a result, other muscles in the neck and shoulder complex—such as the pectorals, scalenes and sternocleidomastoid [muscles]—take up the slack to help us breathe. Over time, [this] disrupts functioning of the entire thoracic spine, rib cage, shoulder girdle and neck, which leads to further dysfunction and, eventually, pain.”