A sternal fracture is a fracture of the breastbone. It most commonly occurs accidentally and is a consequence of an injury or trauma. The sternum is the bone which, together with ribs, protects all the organs inside the thoracic cavity. However, in case of its fracture some of the fractured parts may move inside the thoracic cavity and cause serious damage to many vital organs.
Clinical Characteristics of Fractured Sternum
The leading symptom of a sternum fracture is intensive pain located over the center of the chest. The pain typically worsens during any movement and it also becomes more intense with breathing (especially while taking deep breaths). Patients additionally complain about swelling of the injured area, bruising (which soon develops) and tenderness of the injured bone. In severe fractures there is obvious deformity of the breastbone and the person develops serious breathing difficulties.
What are Causes of Fractured Sternum?
As it has already been mentioned the sternum and the ribs form a protective shield for many organs inside the thoracic cavity. A sternal fracture generally develops due to blunt chest trauma. Namely, the bone may compensate for such trauma up to certain extent. However, if the force is quite intensive the rib cage simply cannot withstand trauma and this leads to a sternal fracture. In majority of cases such fractures develop due to participating in contact sports and may be associated with a physical assault. Furthermore, this fracture also affects people who have had motor vehicle accidents during which the chest has forcefully hit against the steering wheel. Sternal fracture is also a side effect of a forcefully performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
Treatment for Fractured Sternum
This injury requires proper evaluation by a well experienced professional. Patients must be physically examined and they additionally undergo X-ray of the chest or CT scan. Ultrasound of the heart may point to some damage to heart structures due to a severe fracture, when bone fragments have moved deep into the chest cavity or the trauma was so severe that it pushed the organs of the thoracic cavity. Apart from PA X-ray of the chest doctors also perform lateral radiographs. This way they have better insight into the extent of sternal displacement.
Patients suffering from a sternal fracture are commonly prescribed pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs. They are supposed to rest for approximately 3-4 weeks and only after that period may start with mild physical activity. In case of small cracks patients do not require surgical repair. On the other hand, severe cases of bone displacement must be operated. Patients who have undergone fractured sternum surgery go through a recovery of approximately 3-4 months.