Rib Fracture In Children

What is a rib fracture?

A rib fracture is a crack or break in one or more of your child's ribs.


What causes a rib fracture?

A rib fracture in a child is most commonly caused by car accidents. Child abuse is also a common cause of rib fracture. Bone diseases, such as rickets or osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), may also cause fractures in children. Rib fractures happen more often in teenagers who play contact sports, such as football or hockey. Hard coughing may lead to a rib fracture because it causes muscles to tighten.

What are the signs and symptoms of a rib fracture?

Your child may have pain in his chest, especially when he breathes deeply, coughs, or moves. You may see bruises around the area of the rib fracture.

How is a rib fracture diagnosed?

Your child's caregiver will ask about your child's injury and examine him. He will look for any signs of bleeding or bruising. He will also ask about your child's breathing and pain. Your child may need any of the following:

  • A chest x-ray is used to check for broken bones. Caregivers may also use it to check your child's lungs and heart.

  • A CT scan , or CAT scan, is a type of x-ray that uses a computer to take pictures of your child's ribs. The pictures may show broken ribs and injuries to other organs. Your child may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see your child's ribs better. Tell the caregiver if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

How is a rib fracture treated?

  • NSAIDs decrease swelling and pain. This medicine is available without a doctor's order. Ask which medicine is right for your child. Ask how much he should take and when he should take it. Give the medicine as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if it is safe for him to take NSAIDs.

  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your child's caregiver how to give this medicine safely.

  • Deep breathing and coughing will decrease your child's risk for a lung infection. Ask your child to take a deep breath and hold it for as long as he can. He should let the air out and then cough strongly. Deep breaths help open his airway. He may be given an incentive spirometer to help him take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece in your child's mouth and have him take a slow, deep breath. He should then let the air out and cough. Have him repeat these steps 10 times every hour.

  • Rest will help your child heal. Your child should rest as much as possible and get plenty of sleep.

  • Apply ice on the fractured area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.

  • Surgery may be needed if many of your child's ribs are badly fractured. Broken ribs may be held together with plates and screws. An injury to an organ, nerve, or blood vessel may also be treated with surgery.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

  • Your child has a fever.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • Your child coughs a lot or coughs up thick or bloody sputum (spit).

  • Your child has abdominal pain.

  • Your child has trouble breathing.

  • Your child's pain gets worse, even after treatment.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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