Rib fracture can occur if blunt trauma is sustained on the rib cage that is comprised of the ribs, vertebrae, sternum and costal cartilage. The human rib cage is the bony structure that is responsible for protecting the organs in the thoracic cavity. In the human body, the pair of ribs is connected at the back to a corresponding vertebra in the spinal column. The first seven pairs of ribs are connected directly to the sternum. Even though these bones are strong, blunt trauma to the chest during falls, vehicular accidents, impact during contact sports, physical assault can lead to contusions, cracked ribs and even rib fractures.
Causes of rib fracture
Rib fractures are commonly caused by a direct blow to the chest. The severity of the damage to the ribs depends on the force that strikes the chest. In vehicular accidents in which the chest hits the steering wheel, it can cause a rib fracture. Aside from the high impact blunt trauma, repetitive strain due to physical activities or strenuous coughing can result to inflammation of the costal cartilages, making the individual susceptible to rib fracture. The ribs in the middle are commonly affected by rib injuries.
If there are multiple rib fractures, it can be considered as a life-threatening condition. Once the ribs break and become displaced, the fragments can pierce the lungs and lead to their collapse.
Symptoms of rib fracture
- Pain when breathing
- Difficulty breathing
If the individual experiences these symptoms, it is important to seek medical care right away. The doctor will conduct tests to determine the right treatment for the injury.
Treatment for rib fracture
Once an individual sustains a rib fracture, certain exams are carried out such as X-ray, bone scan and other imaging tests to determine if the ribs have cracked or fractured. If you suspect that an individual has a rib fracture, the first aid measure is to instruct the individual to avoid any activity. For minor fractures or small cracks, you can apply a cold pack or ice wrapped in a clean cloth or towel in order to minimize the swelling. Even though labored or painful breathing is one of the common symptoms, the use of compression wraps is not recommended.
Surgery might be required if the individual is suffering from multiple rib fracture. The surgery typically involves the removal of the fragments. Even fixation devices such as metal plates are applied over the rib cage in order to stabilize the ribs during the healing process.
Complications of rib fracture
There are also complications that can develop in case of a displaced fracture. A life-threatening condition can occur if the lungs are punctured by a broken rib. Thoracotomy will be carried out to eliminate air or blood that has gathered between the lungs and the chest wall. Take note that cracked ribs will take months to fully heal; it will take longer if complications are present. It is important to follow the self-care measures given by the doctor in order to speed up the healing process.