Reference > Anatomy of the Human Body > II. Osteology > 4b. The Ribs
Henry Gray (1821–1865).  Anatomy of the Human Body.  1918.
4b. The Ribs

The ribs are elastic arches of bone, which form a large part of the thoracic skeleton. They are twelve in number on either side; but this number may be increased by the development of a cervical or lumbar rib, or may be diminished to eleven. The first seven are connected behind with the vertebral column, and in front, through the intervention of the costal cartilages, with the sternum (Fig. 115); they are called true or vertebro-sternal ribs. 21 The remaining five are false ribs; of these, the first three have their cartilages attached to the cartilage of the rib above (vertebro-chondral): the last two are free at their anterior extremities and are termed floating or vertebral ribs. The ribs vary in their direction, the upper ones being less oblique than the lower; the obliquity reaches its maximum at the ninth rib, and gradually decreases from that rib to the twelfth. The ribs are situated one below the other in such a manner that spaces called intercostal spaces are left between them. The length of each space corresponds to that of the adjacent ribs and their cartilages; the breadth is greater in front than behind, and between the upper than the lower ribs. The ribs increase in length from the first to the seventh, below which they diminish to the twelfth. In breadth they decrease from above downward; in the upper ten the greatest breadth is at the sternal extremity.
Common Characteristics of the Ribs (Figs. 122, 123).—A rib from the middle of the series should be taken in order to study the common characteristics of these bones.   2
  Each rib has two extremities, a posterior or vertebral, and an anterior or sternal, and an intervening portion—the body or shaft.   3
Posterior Extremity.—The posterior or vertebral extremity presents for examination a head, neck, and tubercle.   4
  The head is marked by a kidney-shaped articular surface, divided by a horizontal crest into two facets for articulation with the depression formed on the bodies of two adjacent thoracic vertebræ; the upper facet is the smaller; to the crest is attached the interarticular ligament.   5
  The neck is the flattened portion which extends lateralward from the head; it is about 2.5 cm. long, and is placed in front of the transverse process of the lower of the two vertebræ with which the head articulates. Its anterior surface is flat and smooth, its posterior rough for the attachment of the ligament of the neck, and perforated by numerous foramina. Of its two borders the superior presents a rough crest (crista colli costœ) for the attachment of the anterior costotransverse ligament; its inferior border is rounded. On the posterior surface at the junction of the neck and body, and nearer the lower than the upper border, is an eminence—the tubercle; it consists of an articular and a non-articular portion. The articular portion, the lower and more medial of the two, presents a small, oval surface for articulation with the end of the transverse process of the lower of the two vertebræ to which the head is connected. The non-articular portion is a rough elevation, and affords attachment to the ligament of the tubercle. The tubercle is much more prominent in the upper than in the lower ribs.   6

FIG. 122– A central rib of the left side. Inferior aspect. (See enlarged image)
Body.—The body or shaft is thin and flat, with two surfaces, an external and an internal; and two borders, a superior and an inferior. The external surface is convex, smooth, and marked, a little in front of the tubercle, by a prominent line, directed downward and lateralward; this gives attachment to a tendon of the Iliocostalis, and is called the angle. At this point the rib is bent in two directions, and at the same time twisted on its long axis. If the rib be laid upon its lower border, the portion of the body in front of the angle rests upon this border, while the portion behind the angle is bent medialward and at the same time tilted upward; as the result of the twisting, the external surface, behind the angle, looks downward, and in front of the angle, slightly upward. The distance between the angle and the tubercle is progressively greater from the second to the tenth ribs. The portion between the angle and the tubercle is rounded, rough, and irregular, and serves for the attachment of the Longissimus dorsi. The internal surface is concave, smooth, directed a little upward behind the angle, a little downward in front of it, and is marked by a ridge which commences at the lower extremity of the head; this ridge is strongly marked as far as the angle, and gradually becomes lost at the junction of the anterior and middle thirds of the bone. Between it and the inferior border is a groove, the costal groove, for the intercostal vessels and nerve. At the back part of the bone, this groove belongs to the inferior border, but just in front of the angle, where it is deepest and broadest, it is on the internal surface. The superior edge of the groove is rounded and serves for the attachment of an Intercostalis internus; the inferior edge corresponds to the lower margin of the rib, and gives attachment to an Intercostalis externus. Within the groove are seen the orifices of numerous small foramina for nutrient vessels which traverse the shaft obliquely from before backward. The superior border, thick and rounded, is marked by an external and an internal lip, more distinct behind than in front, which serve for the attachment of Intercostales externus and internus. The inferior border is thin, and has attached to it an Intercostalis externus.   7
Anterior Extremity.—The anterior or sternal extremity is flattened, and presents a porous, oval, concave depression, into which the costal cartilage is received.   8
Peculiar Ribs.—The first, second, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth ribs present certain variations from the common characteristics described above, and require special consideration.   9

FIG. 123– A central rib of the left side, viewed from behind. (See enlarged image)
First Rib.—The first rib (Fig. 124) is the most curved and usually the shortest of all the ribs; it is broad and flat, its surfaces looking upward and downward, and its borders inward and outward. The head is small, rounded, and possesses only a single articular facet, for articulation with the body of the first thoracic vertebra. The neck is narrow and rounded. The tubercle, thick and prominent, is placed on the outer border. There is no angle, but at the tubercle the rib is slightly bent, with the convexity upward, so that the head of the bone is directed downward. The upper surface of the body is marked by two shallow grooves, separated from each other by a slight ridge prolonged internally into a tubercle, the scalene tubercle, for the attachment of the Scalenus anterior; the anterior groove transmits the subclavian vein, the posterior the subclavian artery and the lowest trunk of the brachial plexus. 22 Behind the posterior groove is a rough area for the attachment of the Scalenus medius. The under surface is smooth, and destitute of a costal groove. The outer border is convex, thick, and rounded, and at its posterior part gives attachment to the first digitation of the Serratus anterior; the inner border is concave, thin, and sharp, and marked about its center by the scalene tubercle. The anterior extremity is larger and thicker than that of any of the other ribs.   10
Second Rib.—The second rib (Fig. 125) is much longer than the first, but has a very similar curvature. The non-articular portion of the tubercle is occasionally only feebly marked. The angle is slight, and situated close to the tubercle. The body is not twisted, so that both ends touch any plane surface upon which it may be laid; but there is a bend, with its convexity upward, similar to, though smaller than that found in the first rib. The body is not flattened horizontally like that of the first rib. Its external surface is convex, and looks upward and a little outward; near the middle of it is a rough eminence for the origin of the lower part of the first and the whole of the second digitation of the Serratus anterior; behind and above this is attached the Scalenus posterior. The internal surface, smooth, and concave, is directed downward and a little inward: on its posterior part there is a short costal groove.   11

FIG. 124– Peculiar ribs. (See enlarged image)

FIG. 125– Peculiar ribs. (See enlarged image)

FIG. 126– Peculiar ribs. (See enlarged image)

FIG. 127– Peculiar ribs. (See enlarged image)

FIG. 128– Peculiar ribs. (See enlarged image)
Tenth Rib.—The tenth rib (Fig. 126) has only a single articular facet on its head.   12
Eleventh and Twelfth Ribs.—The eleventh and twelfth ribs (Figs. 127 and 128) have each a single articular facet on the head, which is of rather large size; they have no necks or tubercles, and are pointed at their anterior ends. The eleventh has a slight angle and a shallow costal groove. The twelfth has neither; it is much shorter than the eleventh, and its head is inclined slightly downward. Sometimes the twelfth rib is even shorter than the first.   13
Structure.—The ribs consist of highly vascular cancellous tissue, enclosed in a thin layer of compact bone.   14
Ossification.—Each rib, with the exception of the last two, is ossified from four centers; a primary center for the body, and three epiphysial centers, one for the head and one each for the articular and non-articular parts of the tubercle. The eleventh and twelfth ribs have each only two centers, those for the tubercles being wanting. Ossification begins near the angle toward the end of the second month of fetal life, and is seen first in the sixth and seventh ribs. The epiphyses for the head and tubercle make their appearance between the sixteenth and twentieth years, and are united to the body about the twenty-fifth year. Fawcett 23 states that “in all probability there is usually no epiphysis on the non-articular part of the tuberosity below the sixth or seventh rib.   15
Note 21.  Sometimes the eighth rib cartilage articulates with the sternum; this condition occurs more frequently on the right than on the left side. [back]
Note 22.  Anat. Anzeiger, 1910, Band xxxvi. [back]
Note 23.  Journal of Anatomy and Physiology. vol. xlv. [back]


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