Fractured ribs

What is a fractured rib?

A rib fracture is when one or more of the bones that form part of the rib cage break or crack.

What are the symptoms of a rib fracture?

This type of injury can be very painful. The most common symptoms are:

  • Pain when exerting pressure on the area of the sternum/breastbone
  • Pain when breathing
  • Pain when laughing or coughing
  • Headaches
  • Muscular discomfort in the area
  • Tiredness and difficulty moving
  • Temporary insomnia

How is a rib fracture diagnosed?

The doctor will examine the area of the rib cage that hurts and listen to the lungs as the patient inhales and exhales. If a fracture is suspected, an x-ray, CT scan or MRI scan can show if a fracture is present.

What causes a rib to fracture?

The main causes of rib fractures are injuries or blows to the ribs that can occur due to a traffic accident, a strong punch and with certain contact sports such as rugby. It could also be due to repeated movements like rowing or swinging a golf club and from a very strong cough, especially if the person has weak bones due to cancer or osteoporosis.

What is the treatment?

It can take broken ribs between 2 and 6 months to fully recover. If the fracture has not affected any organ, then the following steps will be advised to help with recovery:

  • Taking a break from sports and resting the affected area
  • Applying ice and cold packs to the rib or ribs affected
  • Taking pain medicine to relieve discomfort and inflammation
  • Practising deep breathing to regain strength and to avoid a lung infection

If any internal organs have been injured, such as a punctured lung, then additional treatment and surgery may be needed.