A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone.
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Some causes are:
- A direct blow to the rib, such as from a motor vehicle accident or contact sports
- Repetitive trauma from sports such as rowing and golfing
- Crushing of the chest, such as from having cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Severe coughing
Things that may raise the risk of rib fracture are:
- Playing contact sports
- Doing activities with repetitive upper body movement, such as rowing, golf, and some jobs
- Having a chronic cough
Symptoms may be:
- Pain, often when breathing or coughing
- Swelling and bruising
- Problems breathing
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You will also be asked how the injury happened. An exam will be done that focuses on your chest, lungs, and back. A break in the ribs can be confirmed with:
It can take 3 to 6 weeks for a rib fracture to heal. The bones can heal on their own with proper rest.
Pain may make it hard to take deep breaths. This can increase the risk of lung infection like pneumonia. Pain medicine will make breathing more comfortable. You may also be given breathing exercises. They may decrease the risk of pneumonia.
Most fractures are due to accidents. To lower the risk:
- Wear a seat belt when you are in a motor vehicle.
- Wear protective equipment, such as rib pads, when playing contact sports.
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Broken or bruised ribs. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rib-injuries/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated December 15, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2020.
Murphy CE 4th, Raja AS, et al. Rib Fracture Diagnosis in the Panscan Era. Ann Emerg Med. 2017 Dec;70(6):904-909.
Rib fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/rib-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed September 30, 2020.
Rib fracture. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture. Accessed September 30, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 9/8/2020