Rib removal is a surgical operation intended to reduce waist circumference by removing the two lowest ribs from the ribcage. These ribs, known as floating ribs, are typically attached to the spinal column, but usually aren't attached to the breast bone. Women probably undergo this largely cosmetic surgical procedure more often than men. Rib removal is generally considered a major surgical procedure, and it cannot typically be reversed.
The surgical procedure known as rib removal does not, technically, make the waist narrower. It can, however, make the waist appear narrower by increasing the space between the ribcage and the pelvis. The procedure removes part of each of the lower ribs, commonly known as the "floating ribs" because, while they are usually anchored to the spinal column, they are not typically anchored to the sternum. A rear segment of each rib is typically left in place to protect the patient's abdominal organs from future injury. A bone-cutting surgical tool may be used to sever the front portion of each lower rib, before the surgeon cuts the ribs away from the muscle and removes them.
The practice of changing the shape of the ribcage in order to reduce waist size has a considerable history. In the past, women often accomplished a permanently reduced waist size by wearing corsets. Experts believe that the continuous wearing of tight corsets, often made with whale bone, could gradually and permanently reshape the lower ribs, leading to a permanently narrower waist. Women of the past often wore tight corsets for 16 to 23 hours per day in order to achieve permanent reshaping of the ribcage. Such a process often took years to complete and may have required the progressive use of tighter and smaller corsets with the passage of time.
The first person to have practiced rib removal in order to achieve a smaller waist may have been the French-born American actress Anna Held, Held reached the height of her fame in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many believe, however, that rumors that Held had her lower ribs removed were untrue.
Today rib removal is considered the preferred method of reducing ribcage size to make the waist appear narrower. It is often performed in conjunction with abdominoplasty, a procedure that seeks to remove excess skin and body fat from the abdominal area. The procedure typically requires general anesthesia, and usually carries all the risks inherent to any major surgical procedure. Additional risks include pneumonia, lung collapse, nerve damage, and tearing of the diaphragm muscle.