Broken Ribs

A broken rib is most commonly a result of moderate to severe injury along the lateral aspect of chest or upper abdomen. In most cases, broken ribs heal spontaneously with time and do not carry risk of complications. However, for optimal and speedy recovery, home remedies are fairly useful.

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Symptoms of Broken Ribs

Injury or trauma to chest produces characteristic pain and discomfort along the chest cavity but in most circumstances, the pain and discomfort is not due to broken rib. Here are a few key symptoms that may help in distinguishing broken rib from other causes of pain in the chest region.

  • Increased intensity of pain and discomfort in the chest with breathing or respiration.
  • Pain that increases in intensity with bending or twisting movements of upper chest
  • Tenderness (or pain with pressure) along the site of broken rib.

Complications

If the broken ends of rib are completely separated or divided in multiple pieces (in case of compound fracture), the severed ends may compromise the normal integrity of surrounding soft tissues, organs and blood vessels. The intensity or severity of complications is dependent upon the number, location and site of broken ribs. Most common complications are:

  • Ribs allow passage to intercostals arteries and in case of trauma involving upper ribs, the risk of injury to aorta (thoracic part) increases several folds. The severed end of ribs may puncture major blood vessels leading to bleeding, hematoma formation or massive hem thorax that may interfere with the breathing
  • In situations when the broken rib pierces the lung, the negative intra-thoracic pressure may lead to lung collapse or punctured lung. Severe injury may increases the risk of death due to respiratory failure.
  • Besides lung, the broken end of ribs may also affect the integrity of major organs in the chest cavity (or abdominal cavity) if trauma involves abdominal ribs and may cause laceration or spleen, kidneys or liver. The risk of damage to abdominal viscera is rare because abdominal ribs are also called floating ribs and are protected by the body wall and abdominal fascia.

When to See a Doctor

Ideally, if you develop severe swelling, pain, hematoma or tenderness after a moderate to severe injury in the chest region, consult a healthcare provider for evaluation of your pain symptoms. Moreover, if you are experiencing difficulty in breathing, without any visible deformity or swelling, you should still see a doctor to manage the symptoms before life-threatening complications develop.

Here is a video that may help you in learning more about the danger signs and medical evaluation.

Causes of Broken Ribs

The common causes suggest string and forceful impact along the chest cavity (that is usually encountered in situations like):

  • Road traffic accidents
  • History of fall from considerable height
  • If fractured/ broken ribs are reported in children or babies, it is recommended to suspect child abuse.
  • Contact or combative sports or at times sports related activities that lead to repetitive trauma or injury to chest like wrestling, or rowing.
  • Sometimes, persistent stress or strain can also lead to rib fractures like chronic and severe cough

Risk Factors

Following risk factors are strongly associated with broken ribs:

  • Chronic state of bone demineralization like osteoporosis or other bone disorders that make the bones weak and vulnerable to injury
  • Risky lifestyle or habits, for example if you are actively involved in sports activities like golf, wrestling and other combative sports, you are at higher risk of developing bone/ rib fractures.
  • Neoplastic bone lesions like primary or metastatic bone cancers also leads to broken ribs.

Remedies for Broken Ribs

Following remedies are helpful in shortening the period of pain and disability.

Home Remedies

Some home remedies that may aid in early recovery of broken ribs are:

  • Take optimal rest (ideally bed- rest in a comfortable position or recliner).
  • If pain is severe, icing on the swelling can also relieve pain and discomfort
  • Make sure to take cough suppressants and other pain relief medications while your broken rib is in the healing process and avoid strenuous physical activity or carrying excessive weight.

Here is a video link that may help you in learning the basic management of a broken rib.

Medications

Medications are consumed mainly to curb pain and discomfort and to maintain the quality of life. Your doctor may advise you:

  • Non steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to manage moderate intensity of pain.
  • In situations when pain is refractory to mild pain-killers like NSAIDs, stronger pain remedies are needed like nerve blockers or opioids analgesics.
  • You must know that unlike NSAIDs, opioid pain killers and nerve blockers can only be obtained with prescription from your doctor.

Preventions

There are a number of preventive measures that can be adopted to decrease the risk of developing bone fractures or fracture of other bones. A few are:

  • Limit your exposure to combative sports and if necessary, make sure to use optimal protective equipments like helmets, chest shields and knee caps.
  • Use protective devices in the home where necessary; for example use rubber mats in the shower to prevent injuries due to slipping, use ladder or staircases that are well- maintained to prevent fall and keep your floors dry and clean.
  • Make sure to consume calcium and Vitamin D rich diets (like dairy products, green leafy vegetables and quality proteins). In addition you can also decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis by consuming calcium and vitamin D supplements.
 
 
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