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10 July 2014
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You are here: BBC Science > Human Body & Mind > The Body > Skeleton
Fact files

Skeleton - Rib Cage

3 types of rib: True, false and floating

Ribcage: Protects your heart and lungs

True, false and floating ribs

Your ribcage is assembled from three types of bone - your sternum, 12 pairs of ribs and 12 thoracic vertebrae.

All of your ribs attach to your spine, but only the top seven pairs connect to your sternum. These are known as 'true ribs' and they are connected to your sternum by strips of cartilage. The next three pairs of ribs are known as 'false ribs'. Instead of attaching directly to your sternum, they all attach to your lowest true rib. The last two pairs of ribs are called 'floating ribs'. These only attach to your spine.

Delicate ribs offer protection

Your ribs form a protective cage that encloses many of your delicate internal organs, such as your heart and lungs. Your rib bones themselves are quite fragile and are easily broken in an accident or even by a violent sneeze. A fractured rib is very painful. A completely broken rib can be dangerous, as it could puncture your heart or lungs.

Breathing

When you inhale, muscles between your ribs lift your ribcage helping your lungs to expand. When you exhale, your ribcage moves down, squeezing air out of your lungs.

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