Definition

What is sternal fracture?

A sternal fracture is a break to the sternum (breast bone). A sternal fracture is most often caused by a direct impact to the bone, at the front of the chest. This is most frequent in road traffic accidents.

How common is sternal fracture?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of sternal fracture?

Symptoms of a fractured sternum include a sudden onset of pain at the front of the chest after an impact or fall of some kind. Pain is usually well localised and doe not radiate. It will be very tender to touch the fracture area and bruising may start to appear after a few hours. Up to 20% of patients may demonstrate breathing difficulties.

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?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes sternal fracture?

Fractured sternums most frequently occur during road traffic accidents. A fractured sternum may also occur during chest compression as performed during CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Fractures of the breast bone may also happen with considerably less force and have been seen in Golfers and weight lifters previously. Older people with osteoporosis may also be more at risk.

Whilst a fracture is a common injury which is often straightforward to treat, a sternal fracture should be examined thoroughly and put under observation for other complications. These may include pulmonary and cardiac contusions (bruising of the lungs or heart) or damage to the aorta (main artery from the heart). If the fractured part of the bone has been displaced, this is more likely to cause further complications.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for sternal fracture?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

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

How is sternal fracture diagnosed?

A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist or doctor is important to assist with diagnosis of a sternal fracture. An X-ray is required to confirm diagnosis. Clinical examination can also determine the likelihood of associated damage to other organs such as the lungs (e.g. a pneumothorax) or heart. Other investigations, such as an MRI or CT scan, may also be performed to confirm diagnosis, assess the severity of injury and involvement of other structures. Other tests may also be used to assess heart and lung function.

How is sternal fracture treated?

Treatment of a sternum fracture which has not been displaced generally involves rest and the use of painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications. If the bone fragment has become displaced, a surgical procedure may be require to re-align the two bone pieces and possible fix them with pins or screws.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

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

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

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on your chest for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when you are awake) or until the swelling goes down. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Even if it hurts, cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once every hour. This will get air deeply into your lungs and reduce your chance of getting pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung. Hold a pillow against your chest to make this less painful.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Avoid activities that may put pressure on your chest or cause a blow to the chest until the pain is gone.

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: October 27, 2017 | Last Modified: October 27, 2017

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