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What is a fractured rib?

A fractured rib is when one or more ribs are cracked or broken. The ribs' function is to protect the vital organs in the chest like the heart, lungs and the large blood vessels. The ribs also play a big role in the breathing process. With every breath they move, with the help of muscles creating enough space for your lungs to fill up with air.

Having a broken rib will cause a lot of pain during breathing.

What causes the rib to get cracked or fractured?

Accidents and falls are the main causes of fractured ribs.
Some bone diseases like osteoporosis and cancer will make your ribs very brittle, and in that case even coughing can lead to a cracked or fractured rib.
If three or more ribs get broken flail chest will happen.

This is a serious problem, because your chest wall will not be able to move to accommodate your breathing properly. This will lead to less space for your lungs.

What signs and symptoms might you have?

Signs and symptoms of cracked or fractured ribs are:

  • Mild to severe pain in the injured area
  • Pain when you breathe
  • Pain on your rib when someone pushes on your breastbone
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Dizzy
  • Fatigue

The pain will get worse if you bend or twist your body, and even if you try to take a deep breath.

Possible complications of broken ribs are:

  • A punctured lung
  • Lacerated spleen, liver or kidneys
  • Punctured aorta
  • Pneumonia

The risk of complications is higher if multiple ribs are fractured

How is a cracked or broken rib diagnosed?

Seek medical help immediately after trauma to the chest. Your doctor will probably want to know how the trauma happened, where you feel the pain, and if anything makes the pain worse.

Your doctor will also order an X-Ray, and maybe even a CT or MRI scan if any of the vital organs are damaged. Your doctor will push on your chest bone to find out where you are injured. They will also want to watch your breath, listen to your heart and lungs to make sure you have no problems with breathing and if any of the vital organs are injured. Your doctor will also want to check your head, neck, spine and abdomen to make sure if no other organ is damaged.

How is a cracked or broken rib treated?

In most cases broken ribs will heal on their own after one or two months. Pain relievers are used against pain.

In the past compression wraps were used to treat fractured ribs. Today compression wraps are not used any more because they don't let you have a deep breath, which increases the risk of pneumonia.

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