A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone. Bruised muscles and ligaments often happen with a rib fracture. With a rib fracture, the lungs and other organs can be injured. More than one rib fracture after a
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 ribCrushing of the chest, such as in contact sports or a car accidentSevere coughing incidents that can occur with lung problems or at high altitudeRib 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:
Age: 65 years and olderDifficulty doing activities of daily livingPlaying contact sportsHaving weak bones
Having a chronic
Extreme repetitive upper body activity (less common), such as in:
Throwing athletesBasketball playersGolfersRowersWeight lifters
Having an occupation involving a lot of overhead
liftingHaving a history of rib or chest fracture
Pain in the ribs or upper chest areaPain when coughingSwelling and bruising in the fracture areaSevere local tenderness in the fracture areaInternal bleedingPain 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: Chest x-ray—an x-ray of the chest to check for fractures and any lung damage
CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the chest
MRI scan—a test that uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to make pictures of structures inside the chest
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.
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)Aspirin
As your ribs heal, a physical therapist can teach you breathing exercises. The therapist can also help you maintain
range of motion
in arm and shoulder joints.
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:
Wear protective equipment, such as rib pads, when playing contact sports.Avoid over-training.Learn the proper technique for exercise and sporting activities.
Maintain strong bones by:
Getting plenty of
in your diet
Doing weight-bearing exerciseNot smoking
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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.
1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Barrett-Connor E, Nielson CM, Orwoll E, Bauer DC, Cauley JA; Osteoporotic Fractures in Men Study Group. Epidemiology of rib fractures in older men: Osteoporotic Fractures in Men (MrOS) prospective cohort study.
Last reviewed September 2012 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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