Health Library Home>Disease, Condition, & Injury Fact Sheets>Article

Rib Fracture

(Broken Rib; Fracture, Rib)

Definition

A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone.

Multiple Rib Fractures with Damage to Lung
broken ribs resized

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

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 CPR
  • Severe coughing

Risk Factors

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

Symptoms may be:

  • Pain, often when breathing or coughing
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Problems breathing

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how the injury happened. An exam will be done that focuses on your chest, lungs, and back.

Images will be taken of your chest. This can be done with:

Treatment

It can take three to six weeks for a rib fracture to heal. The goals of treatment are to manage pain and support the bone as it heals. Options may be:

  • Medicine to ease swelling and pain
  • A chest binder to keep the bone in place it heals
  • Exercises to help with muscle strength and range of motion will be needed.

Prevention

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.
RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
http://www.plasticsurgery.ca

The College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca

REFERENCES:

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, 2019.

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 Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/management/rib-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed September 30, 2019.

Rib fracture. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture. Updated November 2018. Accessed September 30, 2019.

Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM  Last Updated: 9/30/2019