Broken Ribs

What is a Broken Ribs?

Broken ribs are characterized by one or more cracked or broken bones in the rib cage. It is a common sports injury, and it often occurs as a result of vehicle accidents and falls. It can also occur when coughing or through repetitive physical activity. Occasionally, women can have a displaced or broken rib  during pregnancy due to the movements of the baby and the muscular weakening  that makes the ribcage more susceptible to fracture.

Older people are more likely to break a rib and suffer complications than younger individuals. Although very painful, cracked ribs are not as dangerous as those that are completely broken. Snapped ribs can be pointy and rough, and they can damage arteries or bruise internal organs including the, liver, spleen and lungs. X-rays do not always show breaks and cracks. The doctor can often feel the fracture(s). However, x-rays are generally taken when other organs could become damaged.

What are the Symptoms of  Broken Ribs?

Pain is the first symptom of broken ribs, especially when breathing deeply, twisting, bending or pressing on the area. The pain can be extreme and continue for weeks.

Broken Ribs Causes

Broken ribs are usually associated with traumatic injury. Typically, a patient will accidentally harm themselves while playing sports or performing manual labor. A simple fall or tackle will result in some injury to the ribs. While this is the most well-known source of broken ribs, it is far from being the only means by which this can occur. Arthritis, especially inflammatory forms of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis, are often associated with broken ribs. As arthritis wears away the bone thickness, it leads to opportunities for the bone to break. Broken ribs may also be the result of medication or drug use. Drugs can affect bone resorption by reducing the body’s ability to absorb calcium and remineralize bone material. Examples of drugs known to do this are found among the amphetamines and within various immunosuppressants.

How is Broken Ribs Treated?

In decades past, compression wraps were typically used in the treatment of broken ribs. Wrapping is no longer recommended since it can hamper deep breathing.

Those with broken ribs avoid breathing deeply and coughing because of the pain, but it is necessary to prevent pneumonia or lung collapse. The best course of action is usually oral pain relief, either over-the-counter or prescription medication. Hourly deep breathing exercises and coughing is advised. Those who are hospitalized may be given epidural injections to manage the pain of severely broken ribs.

Broken Ribs Prevention

Preventing broken ribs is relatively simple, but the necessary practice is different for each activity. For instance, for football players, wearing the right equipment is absolutely necessary, but for somebody working in construction that equipment simply isn’t an option. General tips to follow in order to avoid having broken ribs is to take precaution when running or lifting. Slippery surfaces and heavy equipment can easily lead to injuries.

Not everybody who develops broken ribs has an accident. For people with arthritis or cancer, it is often simply the course of the disease. To protect yourself in these situations, you will need to make sure you maintain an adequate level of calcium and take precautions with any medication you’re taking. Your doctor should take tests every month to make sure you have appropriate levels of calcium coming in. Vitamin D levels and vitamin A levels in arthritis patients should be checked as well. They are often simply too low for proper calcium metabolism.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
November 21, 2017
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