Boxing is a high-contact sport that leaves your ribs vulnerable to continuous trauma and pressure. Your floating ribs are the four atypical ribs, located at the bottom of your ribcage. These ribs are referred to as "floating" because they are attached only to your vertebrae and not your sternum. Due to this lack of additional support, floating ribs are more vulnerable to boxing hooks and jabs.
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The most common and mild rib injury you will deal with in boxing is a simple bruise to the soft tissue of the ribcage. After trauma is sustained through a punch to the ribs, the blood vessels in the surrounding cartilage will rupture, causing them to release blood into the tissues that surround your floating ribs. In addition to the region becoming sore and tender, you may also have discoloration in the region as a direct result of the ruptured blood vessels.
If your floating ribs are exposed to a high-pressure punch, such as an upper cut or a strong hook, it is possible that one or several of your floating ribs can become fractured. A rib fracture is a direct break in the bone of the rib, caused by blunt force that overpowers the structural makeup of your floating ribs. In boxing, a rib fracture typically occurs on the outer curve of the bone, which is the weakest point of the rib.
A flail chest is a serious medical condition resulting from three or more broken ribs being fractured in multiple places. While this type of injury is often a result of blunt force trauma, such as a car accident or falling from a high place, it can also occur over the course of 10 or 12 rounds in a boxing match. Taking continuous punishment to your floating ribs may result in multiple fractures to the ribs, especially since they are not as stable as your other ribs. The most common symptom for flail chest is paradoxical movement in the ribcage. If you take a breath in and your rib cage sinks instead of expanding, you may be suffering from flail chest.
While professional fighters and sanctioned bouts do not allow rib protectors in the ring, a rib protector is an ideal device to wear during sparring sessions and exhibition bouts. A rib protector is a belt that can be worn under or over your shorts while in a boxing ring. The protector is often made of durable leather and has an adjustable security strap on the back to tighten it to your particular waist size. The strong leather exterior helps to absorb much of the punching power you will face in a sparring match.