A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone. Bruised muscles and damaged 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 trauma can indicate serious internal injury.
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Rib fractures are caused by:
Rib fractures are common in people 65 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of a rib fracture include:
Rib fracture may cause:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Your chest, lungs, and back will be examined.
Imaging tests can evaluate your chest and surrounding structures. These may include:
Treatment may include:
Rest, without physical activity until the pain has gone away.
Your doctor may suggest wearing a chest binder around your ribs to protect them. The binder may help you breathe properly. It is important to take deep 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 over-the-counter medication to help reduce inflammation and pain, such as ibuprofen.
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 where the injury requires hospitalization.
Hospitalization is usually only needed if there are complications such as damage to organs in the chest.
Sometimes rib fractures cannot be prevented. To help reduce your chance of a rib fracture:
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Trauma—Care of the Injured
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Fractures (broken bones). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00139. Updated October 2012. Accessed August 4, 2015.
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Rib fracture. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture. Updated August 2014. Accessed August 4, 2015.
Rib fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T903816/Rib-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed August 4, 2015.
1/4/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T903816/Rib-fracture-emergency-management: Barrett-Connor E, Nielson CM, Orwoll E, et al. Epidemiology of rib fractures in older men: Osteoporotic Fractures in Men (MrOS) prospective cohort study. BMJ. 2010;340:c1069.
Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/4//2015