Broken Rib: Overview and More

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It is quite difficult to break the ribs. It is a skeleton that protects the vital organs located in the thoracic cavity. They are also surrounded by strong muscles and can usually take a lot of abuse before breaking.

Most rib fractures , even in children, occur from car accidents, but are also common as a result of falls from horses, sports injuries, and falls. In some cases, a severe cough, such as from pneumonia, can lead to rib fractures . It is easier for older people to break their ribs than for younger people. Children have more flexible bones.

Types of broken ribs

In most cases, the rib is broken only in one place, and this is an "incomplete fracture," that is, not the entire bone.

Displaced and undisplaced rib fractures

Completely broken ribs may or may not move. If they move, it is called a misaligned rib fracture and is more likely to puncture the lungs or damage other tissues and organs. Ribs that remain in place, usually those that are not completely broken in half, are called undisplaced rib fractures.

Chest of Flails

In rare cases, a part of the rib cage separates from the surrounding bone and muscle. This area loses its stable structure (imagine a short position of the baby's back, connected to the rest of the chest only by the muscles) and it moves quite easily when the patient breathes. This section is known as a flail segment and is much more dangerous than broken ribs.

Get Medical Information / Cindy Chang

Rib fracture symptoms

After a chest injury or particularly strong cough, consider a rib fracture if the patient has any of the following:

  • Severe pain when inhaling
  • Pain in the ribs of the chest or back.
  • Crepitus is a crunchy sensation under the skin.

Causes

One of the best ways to identify a broken rib is through the mechanism of injury . A blow to the chest, a fall on something and a blow to the chest, or colliding with the steering wheel or dashboard in a car accident can certainly lead to broken ribs. A strong cough can also be a rib fracture mechanism.

Diagnostics

Any force strong enough to break a rib is strong enough to cause other, more life-threatening injuries. It is also possible to break more than one rib at a time. More than three broken ribs are life threatening at the same time. Since the only way to know for sure is with an X-ray, it is important to go to the emergency room any time you suspect a rib is broken.

If you've received a hard enough blow to the chest and you think you've broken a rib or two, go to the emergency room or call 911.

This is especially dangerous if the patient has any of the following signs or symptoms:

Watch out

There is good news and bad news about treating a simple broken rib . The good news is that it will heal on its own and probably won't cause any additional problems. The bad news is that it hurts a lot and there really isn't much you can do about it.

In the past, treatment for broken ribs consisted of wrapping a wide band around the chest, often called a rib belt. A 1990 study found no benefit in wrapping patients. Displaced rib fractures caused more problems in this study when they were treated with a belt than when they were not. Most of today's ER doctors do not bandage broken ribs.

The best treatment for a broken rib is with a simple pain reliever. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are the best. If you go to the ER for a broken rib, your doctor will likely prescribe a prescription pain reliever, as well as NSAIDs.

Complications

The most common complication of rib fractures is the inability to breathe deeply due to pain. If you don't breathe deeply enough, mucus and moisture can build up in your lungs and lead to infections like pneumonia .

Misaligned rib fractures can damage other tissues or organs and sometimes lead to collapse of the lungs (pneumothorax) or internal bleeding .

Front facing

Maintaining lung health is important. Practice deep breaths while you recover. It is important not to be intimidated by taking the prescription pain reliever because it is important to control pain by taking deep, strong breaths.

If you go to the emergency room, your doctor may send you home with a deep breathing device. The instrument is called an incentive spirometer. It measures lung capacity so patients can see how well their lungs are recovering as a broken rib heals.

Get the word of drug information

Although broken ribs are painful, simple rib fractures generally do not require surgery. In most cases, broken ribs will heal on their own. Time, rest, and physical therapy can help you recover, exercise, and maintain range of motion. Healing can take at least six weeks, so patience is important. It's important to talk to your doctor about proper pain relief, physical therapy, and breathing exercises so that you can continue to breathe deeply, move, and avoid lung complications like pneumonia.

Frequently asked questions

  • A simple or rib fracture will take about six weeks to heal.

  • Seek emergency care for a broken rib if you also experience:

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