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Fractured Rib – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


What is a Fractured Rib?

Fractured ribs occur when there is a break or discontinuity in any of the bones in the rib cage. It also occur when a crack in the bone of the ribs occur although crack ribs are not potentially dangerous while broken ribs can pose danger as fragments of bones may tear or puncture internal organs and major blood vessels thereby damaging it and may result to serious complication.

Fractured rib may result to difficulty in breathing as ribs give the lungs ample space to expand during breathing or respiration process. Breathing will also be painful when the muscles used for breathing pull on the ribs. It is dangerous when three or more ribs are broken. This is defined as flail chest where the broken ribs are unable to hold its shape when taking a breath. The space for the lungs will then be limited causing difficulty in air flow which may result to internal organs damage brought by insufficient oxygen supply which is vital for the proper function of every organ.

Complications of fractured rib vary depending on the number and location of the ribs broken and this may include:

  1. Punctured aorta – possible to occur when the broken ribs happen on top of the rib cage.
  2. Lacerated spleen, kidney and liver – laceration of these organs may possibly ensue when the broken rib is located on the bottom part which is attached to the breast bone.
  3. Punctured Lungs – fracture in the middle rib will highly put lungs at risk for being punctured.

Fractured Rib Symptoms

A fractured rib may manifests with the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Pain in every breathing
  • Pain on the injured area described as mild to severe
  • Worsening pain on the injured area with every pressure application or movement such as twisting or bending
  • Shortness in breath for flail chest
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Anxiety and restlessness

Fractured Rib Causes

Fractured ribs may occur when there is a direct blow or trauma to the rib cage. It is also possible to have fractured ribs even without direct blow such as those activities in sports. Certain disease and condition also contribute for a rib to break.

Factors contributing to fractured ribs:

  • Vehicular accident
  • Fall such as from stairs or any high rise structure
  • Sports activities requiring body contact or contact sports such as rugby, baseball and boxing
  • Sports that may cause repetitive trauma such as rowing and golf
  • Direct blow in the chest

Other factors may also contribute such as:

  • Osteoporosis – loss in density of bone is highly susceptible to put one at risk for fractured rib
  • Lesions on the ribs due to cancer – ribs are weaken and are susceptible to break
  • Severe and prolonged coughing

Fractured Rib Treatment

Treatment for fractured ribs is not specified although there are various supportive measures to avoid further damage and injury as well as with the complications it may pose.

It usually takes 6 weeks for a broken rib to heal which resolved on its own.

Pain management is a priority in treating a fracture to alleviate discomfort of the patient and this is possible with medications such as:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Acetaminophen
  • Analgesic
  • Nerve blocks
  • Epidural analgesia

Rib fractures repair are recommended for those with multiple fractures which will require the patient to be confined in the hospital. Plates are used to fuse together or internal fixation and these include:

  • Acute Innovations Riblock
  • Sanchez Plates
  • Synthes Matrix Rib Fixation System
  • Anterior Locking Plate

Patient with rib fracture on the first and upper rib cage and have a difficulty in breathing and whose condition is life-threatening, assisted ventilation will be required to facilitate airflow in and out of the lungs to sustain vital organs.

Fractured ribs that require no treatment should be cared for properly while the rib is in the process of healing and such are:

  • Applying cold pack or ice pack on the injured area for twenty minutes to help reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Application of ice pack should be done during the week of healing which normally takes 6 weeks.
  • Deep breathing is advised to insure lung expansion and should be done once every hour.
  • Take plenty of sleep and rest to restore energy.

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