Rib Fractures 101

Rib Fracture

The ribs are the gatekeeper and protector of three of our most crucial organs: the diaphragm, lungs, and heart. This important job makes it imperative to seek medical guidance when the ribs are weakened by injury. Rib fractures, specifically, are cracks or breaks in one or more ribs. To prevent the lungs from developing infections when healing from a fracture, attention must be paid to expanding and contracting the ribs during respiration. Although painful, rib fractures heal over time with the appropriate care and patience.

The Facts

A rib fracture is a break or crack in one of the twelve ribs. The ribs are connected to the thoracic spine vertebrae in the back, and serve to protect the vital organs beneath them, such as the heart, lungs, and diaphragm. If experiencing symptoms of a fracture, it is critical to seek medical attention to ensure that none of these organs have sustained damage.

The Symptoms

Those suffering from a rib fracture will usually feel a sharp pain around the spot of the fracture that can feel diffuse to within several inches of the damaged area. Pain can occur with activities that expand the rib cage, such as breathing or coughing, or with any jarring motion such as jumping or running.

What Is Happening

Rib fractures usually occur as a result of blunt trauma force to the rib cage. This can occur from a projectile (such a baseball), a fall, or a car crash. The rib usually fractures at its weakest point, around the angle or bend. The most common rib fractures happen in the middle ribs, although they can occur anywhere.

Why Is This Happening

Fractures can be either mechanical or pathological in nature. In a mechanical fracture, the patient experiences a severe blunt trauma injury or crush, which creates a crack in otherwise healthy ribs. In pathological fractures, which typically happen to patients with low bone density caused by bone cancer or osteoporosis, only a small amount of force is required to crack the already weakened bone.

Lifestyle Adjustments
  1. Add calcium and vitamin D. Fill your diet with vitamins and minerals that encourage bone health. It is important to consume sufficient calcium and vitamin D from food. Calcium strengthens the bones and teeth. Foods rich in calcium include dairy, white beans, some fish (such as sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout), and dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Vitamin D supports calcium absorption and bone growth. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish (such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon), cheese, beef liver, egg yolks, and food fortified with vitamin D, such as some dairy products, some orange juice, and some soy milk. A combination of added calcium and vitamin D to the diet may prevent bone fractures such as rib fractures.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Do not play contact sports without sufficient practice to ensure proper technique.
  3. Add protective sports equipment. Wear appropriate padding around the rib cage if you are engaging in activities that lend themselves to traumatic contact. Protective sports equipment is an absolute must.
Prevent It
  1. Add calcium and vitamin D. Fill your diet with vitamins and minerals that encourage bone health. It is important to consume sufficient calcium and vitamin D from food. Calcium strengthens the bones and teeth. Foods rich in calcium include dairy, white beans, some fish (such as sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout), and dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Vitamin D supports calcium absorption and bone growth. Foods rich in vitamin D include fatty fish (such as tuna, mackerel, and salmon), cheese, beef liver, egg yolks, and food fortified with vitamin D, such as some dairy products, some orange juice, and some soy milk. A combination of added calcium and vitamin D to the diet may prevent bone fractures such as rib fractures.
  2. Practice makes perfect. Do not play contact sports without sufficient practice to ensure proper technique.
  3. Add protective sports equipment. Wear appropriate padding around the rib cage if you are engaging in activities that lend themselves to traumatic contact. Protective sports equipment is an absolute must.
Fix It
  1. Stay active. It is critical to stay active during the healing process. Bed rest is NOT recommended, as it can lead to complications such as pneumonia, which can be prevented by movement as simple as walking. Walk at least fifty feet every hour you’re awake.
  2. Exercise your ribs. Breathing and coughing exercises, although potentially painful during recovery, should be initiated immediately. Breathing deeply is necessary to prevent mucous and moisture build-up in the lungs that can lead to an infection such as pneumonia. To practice breathing deeply, squeeze a soft pillow against your chest and breath slowly and deeply (to pain tolerance). Take ten deep breaths. Follow breathing exercises with forced coughing. Cough two or three times to clear the lungs of infection. Do this every two hours while you are awake.
  3. Apply ice. Place an ice pack, wrapped in a towel for comfort, to the injured area—fifteen minutes on, forty-five minutes off—every hour you’re awake for the first week after injury, then three to four times a day thereafter until pain dissipates.
  4. Try Epsom salt and lavender oil baths. Epsom salts soaked in water release magnesium sulfate. During a bath, the magnesium sulfate is absorbed through the skin to help reduce inflammation. Lavender oil promotes the relaxation of muscles. Together the two are a powerful tonic to aid in healing. Simply add a cup of Epsom salts and two or three drops of lavender oil to a warm—not hot—bath, and enjoy!
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.