Ribs fracture is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in your rib cage breaks or cracks. The most common cause is chest trauma, such as from a fall, motor vehicle accident or impact during contact sports.
Many broken ribs are merely cracked. While still painful, cracked ribs aren’t as potentially dangerous as ribs that have been broken into separate pieces. A jagged edge of broken bone can damage major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lung.
In most cases, broken ribs usually heal on their own in one or two months. Adequate pain control is important so that you can continue to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications, such as pneumonia.
The pain associated with a broken rib usually occurs or worsens when you:
- Take a deep breath
- Press on the injured area
- Bend or twist your body
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have a very tender spot in your rib area that occurs after trauma or if you have difficulty breathing or pain with deep breathing.
Seek medical attention immediately if you feel pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that extends beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack
Broken ribs are most commonly caused by direct impacts such as those from motor vehicle accidents, falls, child abuse or contact sports. Ribs also can be fractured by repetitive trauma from sports like golf and rowing or from severe and prolonged coughing.
A broken rib can injure blood vessels and internal organs. The risk increases with the number of broken ribs. Complications vary depending on which ribs break. Possible complications include:
- Torn or punctured aorta. A sharp end of a break in one of the first three ribs at the top of your rib cage could rupture your aorta or another major blood vessel.
- Punctured lung. The jagged end of a broken middle rib can puncture a lung and cause it to collapse.
- Lacerated spleen, liver or kidneys. The bottom two ribs rarely fracture because they have more flexibility than do the upper and middle ribs, which are anchored to the breastbone. But if you break a lower rib, the broken ends can cause serious damage to your spleen, liver or a kidney.
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