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Definition

What is rib fracture?

Rib fracture is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in your rib cage breaks or cracks. The most common cause is chest trauma, such as from a fall, motor vehicle accident or impact during contact sports.

Many broken ribs are merely cracked. While still painful, cracked ribs aren’t as potentially dangerous as ribs that have been broken into separate pieces. A jagged edge of broken bone can damage major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lung.

In most cases, broken ribs usually heal on their own in one or two months. Adequate pain control is important so that you can continue to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications, such as pneumonia.

How common is rib fracture?

Rib fracture is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of rib fracture?

The common symptoms of rib fracture are the pains associated with a broken rib usually occurs or worsens when you:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Press on the injured area
  • Bend or twist your body

If you can’t breathe normally because of your injuries, you may:

  • Feel short of breath.
  • Feel anxious, restless, or scared.
  • Have a headache.
  • Feel dizzy, tired, or sleepy.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have a very tender spot in your rib area that occurs after trauma or if you have difficulty breathing or pain with deep breathing.

Seek medical attention immediately if you feel pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that extends beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.

Causes

What causes rib fracture?

Broken ribs are most commonly caused by direct impacts — such as those from motor vehicle accidents, falls, child abuse or contact sports. Ribs also can be fractured by repetitive trauma from sports like golf and rowing or from severe and prolonged coughing.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for rib fracture?

There are many risk factors for rib fracture, such as:

  • Having this disease in which your bones lose their density makes you more susceptible to a bone fracture.
  • Sports participation. Playing contact sports, such as hockey or football, increases your risk of trauma to your chest.
  • Cancerous lesion in a rib. A cancerous lesion can weaken the bone, making it more susceptible to breaks.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

 

How is rib fracture diagnosed?

During the physical exam, your doctor will press gently on your ribs. He or she might also listen to your lungs and watch your rib cage move as you breathe.

Your doctor likely will order one or more of the following imaging tests:

  • X-ray. Using low levels of radiation, X-rays make bones visible. But X-rays often have problems revealing fresh rib fractures, especially if the bone is merely cracked. X-rays are also useful in diagnosing a collapsed lung.
  • CT scan. This often can uncover rib fractures that X-rays might miss. Injuries to soft tissues and blood vessels are also easier to see on CT scans. This technology takes X-rays from a variety of angles and combines them to depict cross-sectional slices of your body’s internal structures.
  • Bone scan. This technique is good for viewing stress fractures, where a bone is cracked after repetitive trauma — such as long bouts of coughing. During a bone scan, a small amount of radioactive material is injected into your bloodstream. It collects in the bones, particularly in places where a bone is healing and is detected by a scanner.

How is rib fracture treated?

Most broken ribs heal on their own within six weeks. Restricting activities and icing the area regularly can help with healing and pain relief.

Medications: It’s important to obtain adequate pain relief — if it hurts to breathe deeply, you may develop pneumonia. If oral medications don’t help enough, your doctor might suggest injections of long-lasting anesthesia around the nerves that supply the ribs.

Therapy: Once your pain is under control, your doctor might prescribe breathing exercises to help you breathe more deeply because shallow breathing can put you at risk of developing pneumonia.

Lifestyle changes & Home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage rib fracture?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with rib fracture:

  • Put ice on the injured area.
  • Get extra rest.
  • Take pain medicine such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medicine if over-the-counter medicines don’t work.
  • While you are healing, it is important to cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once an hour. This can help prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of the lung tissue.
  • If you have fractured your ribs and you have not injured your neck or back, it is a good idea to lie on your injured side. This may seem odd at first, but it will let you take deeper breaths.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: April 14, 2017 | Last Modified: April 14, 2017

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