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 trauma can indicate serious internal injury.
Multiple Rib Fractures with Damage to Lung
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Rib fractures are caused by:
Factors that may increase your risk of breaking a rib include:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. Your chest, lungs, and back will be examined.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
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 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 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 reduce your chance of fracturing a rib:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00097 . Updated October 2012. Accessed August 26, 2013.
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O'Kane J. Delayed complication of a rib fracture. Phys Sportsmed. 1998;26:69.
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. BMJ. 2010;340:c1069.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/30/2013