(Broken Rib; Fracture, Rib)En Español (Spanish Version)
A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone. Bruised muscles and ligaments often happen with a rib fracture. More seriously, the lungs and other organs can be injured. More than one rib fracture after a trauma can indicate serious internal injury.
Multiple Rib Fractures with Damage to Lung
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Rib fractures are caused by:
- A direct blow to the rib
- Crushing of the chest, such as in contact sports or a car accident
- Severe coughing incidents that can occur with lung problems or at high altitude
- Rib fractures in young children are often a sign of abuse
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of having an injury. Risk factors for breaking a rib include:
- Playing contact sports
- Weak bones
- Chronic cough
Extreme repetitive upper body activity (less common), such as in:
- Throwing athletes
- Basketball players
- Weight lifters
- Occupations involving a lot of overhead lifting
- Pain in the ribs or upper chest area
- Pain when coughing
- Swelling and bruising in the fracture area
- Severe local tenderness in the fracture area
- Internal bleeding
- Pain while breathing
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. He will examine your chest, lungs, and back.
Tests may include:
Rest and do not do physical activity until the pain has gone away.
Your doctor may suggest wearing a chest binder around your ribs to protect them. The binder will also help you breathe properly. It is very important to take some good breaths so that the lungs remain clear. Pneumonia can develop after rib fractures if you are not breathing deeply enough. If you play contact sports, you may need to wear a rib cage protector for 6-8 weeks when you return to playing.
Your doctor may recommend that you take one of the following drugs to help reduce inflammation and pain:
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
As your ribs heal, a physical therapist can teach you breathing exercises. She can also help you maintain range of motion in arm and shoulder joints.
Intercostal Nerve Blocks
Special injections with local anesthetic can temporarily relieve pain.
Sometimes a temporary epidural catheter is used to place anesthetic near the spinal cord and nerves. This can help severe cases. This is usually done for hospitalized patients.
Hospitalization is usually only needed if there are complications such as damage to chest organs in the chest.
Sometimes rib fractures cannot be prevented. To reduce your chance of fracturing a rib:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Boden BP, Osbahr DC, Jimenez C. Low-risk stress fractures. Am J Sports Med. 2001;29:100-111.
Fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00097. Updated October 2007. Accessed June 18, 2008.
Gregoretti C, et al. Regional anesthesia in trauma patients. Anesthesiol Clin. 2007;25(1):99-116.
Marx J, Hockberger R, Walls R. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2006.
O'Kane J. Delayed complication of a rib fracture. Phys Sportsmed. 1998;26:69.
Rib fractures. National Guideline Clearinghouse website. Available at: http://www.guideline.gov/summary/summary.aspx?ss=15&doc_id=7062&nbr=4251 . Accessed October 14, 2005.
Last reviewed January 2008 by John C. Keel, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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