Morphometric analysis of variation in the ribs with age and sex

J Anat. 2014 Aug;225(2):246-61. doi: 10.1111/joa.12203. Epub 2014 Jun 10.


Rib cage morphology changes with age and sex are expected to affect thoracic injury mechanisms and tolerance, particularly for vulnerable populations such as pediatrics and the elderly. The size and shape variation of the external geometry of the ribs was characterized for males and females aged 0-100 years. Computed tomography (CT) scans from 339 subjects were analyzed to collect between 2700 and 10 400 homologous landmarks from each rib. Rib landmarks were analyzed using the geometric morphometric technique known as Procrustes superimposition. Age- and sex-specific functions of 3D rib morphology were produced representing the combined size and shape variation and the isolated shape variation. Statistically significant changes in the size and shape variation (P < 0.0001) and shape variation (P < 0.0053) of all 24 ribs were found to occur with age in males and females. Rib geometry, location, and orientation varied according to the rib level. From birth through adolescence, the rib cage experienced an increase in size, a decrease in thoracic kyphosis, and inferior rotation of the ribs relative to the spine within the sagittal plane. From young adulthood into elderly age, the rib cage experienced increased thoracic kyphosis and superior rotation of the ribs relative to the spine within the sagittal plane. The increased roundedness of the rib cage and horizontal angling of the ribs relative to the spine with age influences the biomechanical response of the thorax. With the plane of the rib oriented more horizontally, loading applied in the anterior-posterior direction will result in increased deformation within the plane of the rib and an increased risk for rib fractures. Thus, morphological changes may be a contributing factor to the increased incidence of rib fractures in the elderly. The morphological functions derived in this study capture substantially more information on thoracic skeleton morphology variation with age and sex than is currently available in the literature. The developed models of rib cage anatomy can be used to study age and sex variations in thoracic injury patterns due to motor vehicle crashes or falls, and clinically relevant changes due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other diseases evidenced by structural and anatomic changes to the chest.

Keywords: Procrustes; anthropometry; chest; morphology; thorax.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Ribs / anatomy & histology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Young Adult