Rib Fracture Pain

What is rib fracture pain?

A broken rib 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.

What are the causes?

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

The following factors can increase your risk of breaking a rib:

  • Osteoporosis. 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.

What are the symptoms?

The pain 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

What are the treatments?

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.
In the past, doctors would use compression wraps — elastic bandages that you can wrap around your chest — to help splint and immobilize the area. Compression wraps aren’t recommended for broken ribs anymore because they can keep you from breathing deeply, which can increase the risk of pneumonia.

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