Broken or bruised ribs
Bruised or broken ribs are common injuries. Symptoms of broken or bruised ribs include:
- tenderness over the site of injury;
- a broken rib may be palpated (the health care professional can feel the rib fracture move when pressed);
- the pain tends to be pleuritic (it hurts to take a deep breath and can be associated with shortness of breath); and
- because the surrounding muscles go into spasm, there is pain with any movement of the trunk.
The health care professional will want to listen to the chest to make certain that there is no associated lung damage. Sometimes, subcutaneous emphysema can be felt, a sensation of feeling rice krispies when air leaks into the skin. A chest X-ray may be done to look for a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) or pulmonary contusion (a bruised lung). Special X-rays looking for rib fracture are not needed since the presence or absence of a fracture will not alter the treatment plan or recuperation time. Special attention will be given to the upper abdomen since the ribs protect the spleen and liver, to make certain there are no associated injuries.
The major complication of rib injuries is pneumonia. The lungs work like bellows. Normally, when one takes a breath, the ribs swing out and the diaphragm moves down, sucking air into the lungs. Because it hurts to take a deep breath, this mechanism is altered, and the lung underlying the injury may not fully expand because the patient cannot tolerate the pain. The result is stagnant air and lung tissue that does not fully expand, causing a potential breeding ground for lung infection (pneumonia).
Rib injury treatment may include:
- Pain control with anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen and narcotic pain medications to allow deep breaths to occur.
- Application ice to the affected area and periodically deep take breaths. An incentive spirometer may be provided to help visualize the amount of breath to take.
- Ribs are no longer wrapped or taped to help with comfort. Wrapping ribs decreases the ability of the lung underneath the injured area to fully expand and increases the risk of developing pneumonia.
- Whether broken or bruised, rib injuries take 3 to 6 weeks to heal.