In cases where the ribs have been genuinely fractured, there is a danger of a jagged bone damaging major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lungs. Therefore if you suffer any injury to your ribs it is vital that you seek immediate medical attention. In many cases, however, the ribs are cracked rather than broken and, while painful, any injury is potentially less dangerous.
If your ribs are bruised, cracked or broken, you will experience pain when breathing in, and may only be able to take shallow breaths. Pain is usually severe and becomes worse with movement. Sufferers may also experience swelling, bruising or inflammation around the injured area.
Fractured or bruised ribs are usually caused by a trauma to the chest, such as from a fall, road traffic or sporting accident, or physical assault. Unlike most other bones, ribs cannot be placed in a splint, so they are typically left to heal on their own. In most instances, broken ribs heal within four to six weeks. Appropriate rest and pain control is vital, while it is important that you continue to breathe deeply and take care to avoid lung complications.
Treatment can include one or more of the following:
- Physiotherapy – soft tissue massage and joint mobilisation
- Electrotherapy (ultrasound)
- Protective padding
- A graduated return to activity plan
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