Rib Break: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnostics & Treatment
After an accident or fall, a rib fracture may occur. It is one of the most frequent chest injuries and usually heals without problems. Only when several ribs are broken or a bone splitter punctures the internal organs it becomes dangerous. Here you can find out what a ribbed fracture is and how it is treated best.
Under a rib fracture, medical practitioners understand the injury to the bony rib apparatus. Man has 12 pairs of ribs. At the back, the ribs are connected to the spinal column by the smallest joints, in the front the pairs 1 to 10 are joined to the sternum via cartilage. The last two pairs of ribs are free at the front. These anatomical structures form the chest (thorax) and are an effective protection for the soft internal organs (especially heart and lungs).
In most cases, it occurs between the 4th and 9th ribs. The last rib is only very rarely affected. In order to break ribs, a great external force is necessary (trauma). This usually happens in an accident or fall. Who falls in the bathroom on the tub edge or from a stair step, can suffer a rib break. If the cough is severe (eg with COPD), a rib fracture can occur without trauma. Even weak bones ( osteoporosis ) are a risk to the fracture. Contact sports such as hockey, handball or football lead to more bone fractures.
Rib fractures: these are the symptoms
If a rib is broken, painful breathing, cough or stretching occur. Breathing or circulatory problems may result. Light pressure on the chest from the outside also leads to unpleasant pain. In some cases, there are noises when breathing (crunching). Sometimes air accumulation can be palpated under the skin.
If there is a fracture of three or more successive ribs on the same side, doctors refer to a rib series fracture. Here, the mechanics of breathing may be disturbed. In addition, complications are more likely then. Through the fractures, the internal organs can be squeezed or tangled. If a bone fragment penetrates the rib fur, a pneumothorax may develop. This is a medical emergency, which must be treated urgently by a doctor. Here, air penetrates into the gap between the ribs and the lungs and impairs the breathing process. If the gap filled with blood due to a vascular injury, doctors talk of a hematothorax. Acute dyspnea and the feeling of asphyxiation are the clear signs.
Diagnosis Rib fracture: That makes the doctor
As a rule, the physician can diagnose the rib fracture by the patient’s medical history. He asks questions like
- Was there an accident?
- Have you fallen to the chest?
- How would you describe the pain?
- Were there similar injuries before?
- Is your breathing normal?
In the physical examination he can then determine the fracture. In some cases the fracture is palpable from the outside. However, the radiographs of the thorax can be considered. Here, the doctor can locate the fracture / fractures accurately.
Sometimes the fracture is not visible on the radiograph. This, however, does not rule out the injury. Computer tomography can be performed additionally and provide more accurate images. If there is a risk that organs are injured, ultrasound images can be made.
Treatment of a rib fracture: painkillers are important
As a rule, a simple rib fracture will recover by itself after six to eight weeks. A dressing or even a plaster is not necessary. On the contrary, an association can promote pneumonia. The muscular structures of the upper body hold the broken bone in place and it can grow together again.
However, the treatment of the pain is important. The affected ridge breathes flatterly through the broken rib and takes a hold. As a result, the lung is no longer completely filled with air and aerated – the likelihood of pneumonia is increased. By administering painkillers such as ibuprofen or diclofenac this complication can be prevented.
If the pain is particularly strong, a nerve blockade can be established. In doing so, a local anesthetic is injected into the lower edge of the affected rib, thereby exerting pain in this area. The patient is thus painless for several hours.
Inpatient hospital stay rarely necessary
A stationary treatment may be indicated in the fracture of several ribs and complicated fractures. In a clinic, the organ functions are monitored and, if necessary, complications can be treated quickly. For example, an intubation can artificially support respiration if this injury comes to a halt because of injury.
Only in rare cases is a surgical procedure necessary for a rib fracture.
Respiratory therapy for healthy lungs
Respiratory therapy also helps to prevent pneumonia. Under medical or therapeutic instructions, the patient learns methods to inhale deeply despite rib fractures. Also, exercises to facilitate the coughing of collected secretions are part of this therapy. This treatment can be done on an outpatient basis.
Also moderate exercise is helpful in rib fracture patients. Strict bed rest is unnecessary. In spite of the injury, the person concerned should participate as normally as possible in everyday life. Only the lifting of heavy loads, the greatest effort and, of course, sports are prohibited. But those affected by the pain will instinctively avoid these activities. After about six weeks the training can be started slowly and after eight weeks the break should have healed. If the discomfort persists for a longer time, it is advisable to consult the orthopaedist or family doctor to avoid any possible complications.
Rib Break: Properly sleeping against the pain
A problem with a rib fracture is often lying down or sleeping. Due to the severe pain, it is difficult for the affected person to find a comfortable position just in the phase immediately after the injury. Medical professionals recommend a lateral location on the opposite side of the break. If a rib is broken on the left chest, the patient should try to sleep on the right side. Thus, the fracture is best relieved.
A slight erection of the upper body can be perceived as pleasant. Special side pillow pads can help maintain the pain-free position at night.
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