Fracture (cont.)

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Broken rib

The ribs are especially vulnerable to injury and are prone to breaking due to a direct blow. Rib X-rays are rarely taken since it doesn't matter if the rib is broken or just bruised. A chest X-ray often ordered to make certain there is no collapse or bruising of the lung.

As we breathe, our ribs and lungs expand like a bellows. When we breathe, the ribs swing out and the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the chest wall and abdomen pushes down and air is sucked into the lungs. When a person has a rib injury, the pain associated with that injury, be it a fracture or contusion (bruise), makes breathing difficult and the person has a tendency to not take deep breaths. If the lung underlying the injury does not expand, it is at risk for infection. The person is then susceptible to pneumonia (lung infection), which is characterized by fever, cough, and shortness of breath.

As opposed to other parts of the body that can rest when they are injured, it is very important to take deep breaths to prevent pneumonia when rib fractures are present. The treatment for bruised and broken ribs is the same: ice to the chest wall, ibuprofen as an anti-inflammatory, deep breaths, and pain medication. Even if all goes well, there will be significant pain for four to six weeks. Ribs are no longer wrapped because of the complication of possibly developing pneumonia.

With lower rib fractures, there may be concern about organs in the abdomen that the ribs protect. The liver is located under the ribs on the right side of the chest, and the spleen under the ribs on the left side of the chest. Many times your doctor may be more worried about abdominal injury than about the broken rib itself. Ultrasound or CT scan may help diagnosis intra-abdominal injuries.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/9/2013

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Fracture - Describe Your Experience Question: Please describe what type of fracture you experienced.
Fracture - Causes Question: What caused your fracture?
Fracture - Treatment Question: Besides surgery, what types of treatment did you have for your bone fracture?
Bone Fracture - Signs and Symptoms Question: How did you know you had more than a sprain or strain? What were your signs and symptoms of a broken bone?
Bone Fracture - Surgery Question: Did you have surgery to fix your broken bone(s)? Which bone(s) did you fracture?