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Broken Ribs


Disease: Broken Ribs Broken Ribs
Category: Bones, joints, muscles diseases
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Disease Definition:

One of the common injuries that occur when one of the bones in the rib cage breaks or cracks is a broken rib or a fractured rib. Trauma to the chest, such as from a fall, impact during contact sports or motor vehicle accident is the most common cause of broken ribs.

Broken ribs usually turn out to be only cracked. Ribs that have been broken into two or more pieces are much more dangerous than cracked ones, despite the fact that both of them are painful.

Usually, in a month or two, most broken ribs heal on their own. Additionally, for the patient to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications such as pneumonia, adequate pain control is necessary.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Experiencing pain when taking a deep breath, or pain that gets worse when the injured area is pressed or when the body is bent or twisted are some of the signs and symptoms of a broken rib.

After a trauma, in case a person has a very tender spot in the rib area or if tenderness hinders breathing or is present with deep breaths, the doctor should be consulted.

The symptoms mentioned below indicate a heart attack, so when someone experiences these signs and symptoms, immediate medical care should be sought:

  • Pain that extends beyond the chest to the shoulder or arm
  • Increased episodes of chest pain
  • Pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes


Repetitive trauma and direct impact are the two causes of broken ribs.

Repetitive Trauma:
This usually occurs during severe and prolonged coughing spells or sports such as golf, basketball, rowing or baseball.

Direct Impact:

This usually occurs during contact sports motor vehicle accidents, child abuse or falls.

Some of the factors that may increase a person’s risk of breaking a rib include:

Cancerous lesion in a rib:
A bone will be more likely to break in case a cancerous lesion has weakened it.

Participating in sports:
A person’s risk of trauma to the chest that can result in a rib fracture will increase in the case of participating in contact sports such as football or hockey.

People who have osteoporosis will be at an increased risk of breaking a rib because this disease makes the bones lose their density.



The blood vessels and internal organs may be injured if a rib has been broken to more than one piece instead of just being cracked. The number of broken ribs increases this risk. The ribs are numbered sequentially from the top down in order to help in identification. If complications occur, they will depend on which of the ribs are broken.

Upper ribs:
The first three ribs are protected by the collarbone and shoulder blades. In case one of these upper ribs breaks, a jagged edge may pierce a major blood vessel, such as the aorta. However, these three bones aren’t easily broken.

Middle ribs:
Blunt trauma is the most likely cause of breaking of the middle ribs. In case the broken ends of these ribs puncture a lung, the lung may collapse. These broken ends may also cause bleeding.

Lower ribs:
The last two ribs aren’t attached to the breastbone (sternum), making them more flexible and less likely to break. However, if any of these two ribs do break, the liver, spleen or kidneys may sustain serious damage from the broken ends of the ribs.


Usually, within six weeks, broken ribs heal on their own.

Obtaining adequate pain relief is very important because pneumonia may result if a person doesn’t breathe deeply because it hurts.

Nerve blocks:

A person may be suggested injections of long-lasting anesthesia around the nerves that supply the ribs. Usually, these injections are suggested only when the pain is severe.

Over-the-counter medications:

In order to relieve the discomfort as a person is waiting for the fracture to heal, over-the-counter medications can help, such as acetaminophen  or NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as naproxen  or ibuprofen.

Other pain medications:

Stronger pain medications may be prescribed in case acetaminophen or NSAIDs don’t work well enough.


Compression wraps, such as elastic bandages that are wrapped around the chest, can inhibit a person from taking deep breaths, increasing the risk of pneumonia. Because of this, they aren’t recommended for broken ribs, despite the fact that they used to be a common treatment in the past.


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