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Lahey Health is now part of Beth Israel Lahey Health

by EBSCO Medical Review Board
(Broken Rib; Fracture, Rib)

Definition

A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone.

Multiple Rib Fractures with Damage to Lung
broken ribs resized
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Some causes are:

  • A direct blow to the rib, such as from a motor vehicle accident or contact sports
  • Repetitive trauma from sports such as rowing and golfing
  • Crushing of the chest, such as from having cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Severe coughing

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of rib fracture are:

  • Playing contact sports
  • Doing activities with repetitive upper body movement, such as rowing, golf, and some jobs
  • Having a chronic cough

Symptoms

Symptoms may be:

  • Pain, often when breathing or coughing
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Problems breathing

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You will also be asked how the injury happened. An exam will be done that focuses on your chest, lungs, and back. A break in the ribs can be confirmed with:

Treatment

It can take 3 to 6 weeks for a rib fracture to heal. The bones can heal on their own with proper rest.

Pain may make it hard to take deep breaths. This can increase the risk of lung infection like pneumonia. Pain medicine will make breathing more comfortable. You may also be given breathing exercises. They may decrease the risk of pneumonia.

Prevention

Most fractures are due to accidents. To lower the risk:

  • Wear a seat belt when you are in a motor vehicle.
  • Wear protective equipment, such as rib pads, when playing contact sports.

RESOURCES

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  https://familydoctor.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons  http://www.orthoinfo.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons  http://www.plasticsurgery.ca 

The College of Family Physicians of Canada  http://www.cfpc.ca 

References

Broken or bruised ribs. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rib-injuries/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated December 15, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2020.

Murphy CE 4th, Raja AS, et al. Rib Fracture Diagnosis in the Panscan Era. Ann Emerg Med. 2017 Dec;70(6):904-909.

Rib fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/rib-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed September 30, 2020.

Rib fracture. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture. Accessed September 30, 2020.

Revision Information