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Learning objectives

This study unit will help you:

  1. Learn about the different types of ribs.
  2. Identify the bony features found on all ribs.
  3. Discover the functions of the ribs and their relationship with surrounding structures.

Watch video

The ribs are arc-shaped, flat bones that protect thoracic organs such as the heart and lungs, and provide attachment points to muscles of the back, chest and proximal upper limb. They are 12 pairs of ribs, attached posteriorly to the thoracic vertebrae.

The ribs can be divided into groups based on their distal attachment points. The first seven pairs of ribs articulate directly with the sternum through their costal cartilages and are known as the true ribs or vertebrosternal ribs. The 8th-10th ribs unite anteriorly via their costal cartilages and articulate indirectly with the sternum via the 7th rib; they are known as false ribs or vertebrocostal ribs. The 11th and 12th ribs are known as floating ribs as they do not attach to the sternum in any manner and are particularly short and have no necks nor tubercles.

Watch the following video to learn more about the various bony landmarks found on each rib and how they relate with nearby surrounding structures.

Take a quiz

Now that you’ve learned the basics about the ribs, go ahead and solidify your knowledge by taking our quiz.

Did you find weak spots in your knowledge about the ribs? Try our customizable quiz to choose the topics that you want to be tested on:

Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the ribs and their bony features in the atlas gallery below.

Now that you’ve seen typical ribs in detail, it’s time to take a look at some of the atypical ribs in the following galleries.


Key points about the ribs
Classifications True ribs: Vertebrosternal ribs: 1st-7th
False ribs: Vertebrocostal ribs: 8th to 12th
(Floating ribs: 11th/12th)

Typical ribs: 3rd- 9th
Atypical ribs: 1st, 2nd, 10th-12th
Bony landmarks Head: Facet divided into two by crest of head of rib
Neck: Crest of neck of rib
Body: Tubercle, costal groove, angle

External and internal surfaces
Round superior border, sharp inferior border
Proximal (vertebral) and distal (sternal) ends
Atypical ribs Rib 1: Shortest true rib, single facet on head; lacks angle and costal groove, has two grooves for subclavian vessels, scalene tubercle
Rib 2
: Tuberosity for serratus anterior muscle
Rib 10
: Single facet on head
Rib 11
: Single facet on head; short neck, lacks tubercle, has a slight costal groove
Rib 12
: Single facet on head; lacks tubercle, angle, costal groove
Function Provide attachment points to muscles of the back, thorax and proximal upper limb
Protect thoracic organs such as heart and lungs

Well done!

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