The ribs and rib cage are excellent examples of the human body’s multi-faceted and multi-functional design.
They are strong enough to support the skeleton and protect the vital organs in the chest cavity, including the heart, lungs, and spleen. Yet, the ribs and rib cage are also flexible enough to expand and contract as the lungs fill and release with the breath.
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In this article, learn more about the number of ribs humans have, what their function is, and whether women have more than men.
Most people are born with 12 ribs on each side of the body, making a total of 24 ribs.
Some people are born with more than 24 ribs. These extra ribs are called supernumerary ribs. When people are born with less than 24 ribs, it is called agenesis of the ribs.
To get an idea of how many people had an unusual number of ribs, researchers carried out a study on 188 pregnant women, who were each carrying a single fetus. The study revealed that 92% of fetuses had a normal amount of ribs, 5.3% had fewer, and 2.7% had more.
The first seven sets of ribs are called true ribs. Costal cartilage anchors them to the edge of the sternum, or breastbone, in the middle of the chest at the front of the body. These ribs attach to the thoracic vertebra of the spinal column in the back.
Ribs 8–10 are known as false ribs. These do not connect to the sternum individually. Instead, costal cartilage anchors them to the ribs above them. They collectively share a cartilage connection to the sternum by blending into the cartilage of rib 7. These ribs also connect to the thoracic vertebrae in the back.
Sets 11 and 12 are floating ribs, and they only connect to the thoracic vertebrae of the spinal column in the back.
It is the flexible costal cartilage that allows the ribs to expand when people take deep breaths.
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Supernumerary ribs occur in about 0.5% of the population. Typically, they develop on the last vertebra of the neck (the 7th cervical vertebra) above the normal first rib. They are called cervical ribs, and they usually develop in pairs, although some people may only have one cervical rib.
Supernumerary ribs can also grow out of the lumbar spine below rib 12, but this only develops in about 1% of the population,
Much of the time, cervical ribs do not cause any symptoms. However, they can press on and constrict nerves and blood vessels, which can create a condition called thoracic outlet syndrome.