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What You Need to Know About Rib Fractures

Rib Fractures – Information you should know

Did you know that a broken rib is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in your rib cage breaks or cracks? Well, most cases of a broken rib result from blunt chest trauma that can occur from a fall, motor vehicle accident or impact during contact sports.

Rib injuries can become potentially dangerous, especially if the rib has become broken into separate pieces; a jagged edge can damage major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lungs. You should always see a physician for chest trauma, painful cracked ribs, or any other serious injuries.

It’s important to identify the signs of a rib fracture; you may feel pain upon breathing, pressure around the area, and pain upon bending or twisting.

How will the doctor diagnose a broken rib?

Your physician will perform a physical examination. During the examination, the provider will press gently on your ribs to check for abnormalities and pain. Additionally, the doctor will listen to your lungs and watch your rib cage move as you breathe.

The doctor will then possibly order diagnostic tests, such as:

X-rays: X-rays use a low level of radiation, which make bones visible. However, it’s important to note that some fresh rib fractures are especially difficult to view if the bone is merely cracked. An x-ray will be useful in diagnosing a collapsed lung within a rib injury.

MRIs: These images will be used to look at the soft tissue and organs around the rib cage, to help determine if there has been any damage. Additionally, an MRI can help detect more subtle fractures within your ribs.

CT Scans: The CT Scan can usually uncover a rib fracture that was missed by an x-ray. Not to mention, a CT Scan can also reveal soft tissue, organs, and blood vessel damage.

Bone Scans: The bone scan is good for detecting stress fractures that are not evident on other studies and determining where the bone has been cracked.

How will I be treated?

In most cases a rib fracture heals on its own. However, you still need to seek medical attention if you think you have fractured a rib because you may develop serious complications.  Your doctor may prescribe you some pain relief medicine.  If the pain is consistent, the  pain can lead to shallow breathing and lack of coughing, which can predispose you to a chest infection. Remember, your physician will determine the best healthcare plan for you. Breathing exercises may be suggested to help reduce shallow breathing, in addition to medication. An elastic bandage may be dispensed to help splint and immobilize the area, as well.

What are the risk factors for rib fractures?

  • Osteoporosis leads to loss of bone density, which makes you more susceptible to bone fractures.
  • Sport participation, specifically contact sports (hockey or football), increase the chances of trauma to the chest.
  • Cancerous lesion (in the rib) can weaken the bone, making it susceptible to breaks.

Remember, rib fractures are serious injuries that require medical attention. The complications that can occur from a rib fracture include serious damage to internal organs, such as a punctured blood vessel or lung, and possibly a lacerated spleen, liver, or kidney.

About Healthpointe:

Healthpointe offers services throughout Southern California (Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County) including La Mirada by Whittier, La Habra, Norwalk, Cerritos, Buena Park, and Santa Fe Springs. We are proud of our record of excellence over the last four decades with private patients, injured workers, urgent care, and athletes.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Roman Shulze

About Jessica Pena

Jessica is a health blogger and content writer for Healthpointe, a healthcare organization specializing in orthopedics, sports injuries, injured workers, and more. Whatever it is you need to know – whether it’s the latest treatments for hernias, or tips for quick headache relief (and everything in between) – Jessica has you covered. For more of Jessica, check out her articles on the Healthpointe blog.

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