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Rib Fracture


A rib fracture

is a crack or break in a rib. A rib fracture can be caused by trauma such as a car accident or fall. Trauma can increase your risk for organ damage when your rib is fractured. Stress fractures in your ribs happen in your upper or middle ribs. Stress fractures can happen when you have a forceful long-term cough. Other things that increase your risk for rib fractures include being an older adult, osteoporosis, and tumors.

Rib Cage

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest wall pain that worsens when you breathe, move, or cough
  • Bruising or swelling near your injury
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty taking a deep breath

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have new or increased pain.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your pain does not get better, even after treatment.
  • You have a fever or a cough.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for a rib fracture

may include any of the following:

  • Medicines:
    • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly.
    • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
    • Intercostal nerve block may be given to numb the injured area for about 6 hours. It is given as a shot between 2 of your ribs in the fractured area. You may need this if your pain continues or is getting worse even after you take oral pain medicines.
  • Deep breathing and coughing will decrease your risk for a lung infection. Hug a pillow on the injured side while doing this exercise, to decrease pain. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as possible. You should let the air out and then cough strongly. Deep breaths help open your airway. You may be given an incentive spirometer to help take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece in your mouth. Take a slow, deep breath. You should then let the air out and cough. Repeat these steps 10 times every hour.
  • Rest and limit activity as directed to decrease swelling and pain, and allow your injury to heal. Avoid activities that may cause more pain or damage to your ribs such as, pulling, pushing, and lifting. As your pain decreases, begin movements slowly. Take short walks between rest periods.
  • Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your injured area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.
  • Surgery may be needed If many of your ribs are badly fractured. Surgery is often needed for a flail chest. Flail chest occurs if 3 or more of your ribs are broken in 2 or more places. This condition may make it hard for you to breathe. When you take a breath, your rib cage expands. The broken ribs with flail chest do not expand and may push inward on your organs. Broken ribs may need to be held together with plates and screws. An injury to an organ, nerve, or blood vessel may also be treated with surgery.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Rib Fracture (Ambulatory Care)

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