What is Rib Fracture Pain?
Your ribs protect soft, fragile organs like your heart and lungs. A broken rib causes rib fracture pain, which is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in your rib cage breaks or cracks.
Many broken ribs are merely cracked. While still painful, cracked ribs aren’t as potentially dangerous as ribs that have been broken into separate pieces. A jagged edge of broken bone can damage major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lung.
What are the Causes?
The most common cause is chest trauma, such as from a fall, motor vehicle accident, child abuse, getting CPR or impact during contact sports. Ribs also can be fractured by repetitive trauma from sports like golf and rowing or from severe and prolonged coughing.
The following factors can increase your risk of breaking a rib:
- Osteoporosis. Having this disease in which your bones lose their density makes you more susceptible to a bone fracture.
- Sports participation. Playing contact sports, such as hockey or football, increases your risk of trauma to your chest.
- Cancerous lesion in a rib. A cancerous lesion can weaken the bone, making it more susceptible to breaks.
A broken rib can injure blood vessels and internal organs. The risk increases with the number of broken ribs. Complications vary depending on which ribs break. Possible complications include:
Torn or punctured aorta. A sharp end of a break in one of the first three ribs at the top of your rib cage could rupture your aorta or another major blood vessel.
Punctured lung. The jagged end of a broken middle rib can puncture a lung and cause it to collapse.
Lacerated spleen, liver or kidneys. The bottom two ribs rarely fracture because they have more flexibility than do the upper and middle ribs, which are anchored to the breastbone. But if you break a lower rib, the broken ends can cause serious damage to your spleen, liver or a kidney.
What are the Symptoms?
The pain associated with a broken rib usually occurs or worsens when you:
- Take a deep breath
- Press on the injured area
- Bend or twist your body
- Cough or laugh
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have a very tender spot in your rib area that occurs after trauma or if you have difficulty breathing or pain with deep breathing.
Seek medical attention immediately if you feel pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that extends beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.
The following measures may help you prevent a broken rib:
- Protect yourself from athletic injuries. Wear protective equipment when playing contact sports.
- Reduce the risk of household falls. Remove clutter from your floors and clean spills promptly, use a rubber mat in the shower, keep your home well-lit, and put skidproof backing on carpets and area rugs.
- Strengthen your bones. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet is important for maintaining strong bones. Aim for about 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 International Units of vitamin D daily from food and supplements.
What are the Treatments?
There is no specific treatment for rib fractures, and in most cases broken ribs usually heal on their own in one or two months. Restricting activities and icing the area regularly can help with healing and pain relief. Adequate pain control is important so that you can continue to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications, such as pneumonia.
Rib fracture treatments typically include:
It’s important to obtain adequate pain relief — if it hurts to breathe deeply, you may develop pneumonia. If oral medications don’t help enough, your doctor might suggest injections of long-lasting anesthesia around the nerves that supply the ribs.
Once your pain is under control, your doctor might prescribe breathing exercises to help you breathe more deeply because shallow breathing can put you at risk of developing pneumonia.
In the past, doctors would use compression wraps — elastic bandages that you can wrap around your chest — to help splint and immobilize the area. Compression wraps aren’t recommended for broken ribs anymore because they can keep you from breathing deeply, which can increase the risk of pneumonia.
If you are suffering from chronic rib fracture pain, call the pain management specialists at CSPP today at 818-325-2088 for an appointment.