Ribs are long and curved bones and together with the breast bone and thoracic vertebrae they form the rib cage. They are rather strong and too strong to be broken. However, under certain circumstances even fracture of ribs is possible.
Causes of Broken Rib
Ribs most commonly break due to direct impact or repetitive trauma. Direct impact and subsequent rib fracture develops as a consequence of motor vehicle accidents, falls and in contact sports. It may also be associated with child abuse. Repetitive trauma and rib fracture is related to certain sports such as baseball, basketball or rowing. The ribs may be also broken due to severe and prolonged coughing spells.
Symptoms of Broken Rib
Patients whose rib is broken usually complain about intensive pain in the chest which tends to become even more severe when taking a breath and shows as tenderness of the injured area. If the bone fragments go one across another the specific sound called crepitus occurs. This crunchy sound develops as a consequence of dislodging of the bone fragments.
The person simply cannot breathe properly because of the pain. This may eventually cause build up of mucus inside the lungs and lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is only one possible complication of broken ribs. In case a broken rib injures the pleura or even punctures the underlying lung, pneumotorax occurs. Fragments of broken bones may in severe cases cause internal bleeding.
Diagnosis and Treatment from Broken Rib
The person reports injury and the doctor performs thorough physical examination. What follows is chest x-ray which can perfectly visualize fracture and even certain complications such as pneumothorax.
In case of rib fracture the injured area is never placed in a cast. The cast will only restrict movement of the chest and interfere in normal process of breathing. However, in order to prevent further damage and to allow the broken rib to heal properly one is supposed to have plenty of rest.
Reduction in movement will also reduce the pain. Broken rib in all cases leads to severe pain and this is why patients are always prescribed pain relieving medications. The pain is in majority of patients alleviated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (ibuprofen and naproxen). Even though it may be difficult one is advised to take deep breaths. This way the entire lung tissue will ventilate properly and the risk of pneumonia will decrease. Treatment of pneumotorax may require hospitalization depending on its severity. Hospitalization and special medical care is also required if rib fracture is associated with coughing blood, confusion, dizziness and severe shortness of breath.