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How to know if I have a cracked or broken rib

by Alivia Nyhan
Published: Last Updated on

At some point in life, people have had or have had pain when breathing deeply and attribute this to a common cause called neuralgia or intercostal neuritis. But other times, this is not usually the case, and people worsen their symptoms by waiting to see if it passes by itself until they decide to go to the doctor.

By conducting studies, a doctor can determine if there is a fracture or fissure of a rib and whether it affects a person’s health due to the complications that it may have. At FastlyHealwe, answer your questions about ” how do I know if I have a broken or cracked rib? “, As well as what you can do about it.

Ribs: characteristics and functions

The thorax or rib cage is made up of 24 ribs in their entirety, 12 on the left side and 12 on the right side, each of them are long, flat bones with elastic properties, which together with the sternum in front and the spine vertebral from behind make up the so-called bone cage. Each of the ribs is structured by the head, neck, tuberosity, body, groove, crest, and front end.

In addition to the bony part, there are the so-called intercostal spaces (between each of the ribs) made up of arteries, muscles, and nerves, which also add to the overall concept of the thorax.

Of the 12 ribs that make up each side of the thorax, there are seven true or sternal ribs (the first from top to bottom) that articulate directly with this bone, three false or asternal that indirectly articulate the sternum through the costal cartilages and finally two floating ribs that are only fixed by the vertebral column.

Without a doubt, the ribs, together with the sternum, are responsible for protecting the internal organs that are in the rib cage, which are the heart and lungs, and also facilitate the breathing process in conjunction with the cartilage that makes up the thorax.

Causes of a rib fracture or fissure

The ribs most susceptible or prone to cracking or injury are the intermediate or false ribs; the first ones, the true ones, are protected by the clavicles, one on each side and the pectoral muscle.

The most common causes of a cracked or broken rib are:

  • Direct impacts or trauma: frequent accidents in transport, falls, and fights or abuse. With this type of fracture, the possibility that the internal organs are affected is likely to increase and have significant complications since the blows are usually substantial.
  • Extreme cough: severe coughing attacks due to pulmonary pathologies such as underlying disease, which are also prolonged, can cause fractures or fissures in the ribs.

It should be noted that predisposing or risk factors coexist that may increase the possibility of producing a rib fracture or fissure:

  • Sports: Especially contact sports such as soccer, golf, track and field, or basketball players increase the possibility of suffering a rib fissure or fracture.
  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a disease in which bone density decreases; the bones become weak. You are making them more vulnerable to having a rib fracture.
  • Cancer: especially in a rib, is responsible for weakening it and making it more vulnerable.
  • Old age: where there is a typical weakening of the bones.

How to know if I have a rib fissure or fracture

The causes and risk factors that a person has, always in conjunction with the clinical manifestations, are essential to know if there is a broken or fissured rib. These are the signs and symptoms of a damaged or fissured rib, so by looking at whether or not you manifest them, you will be able to answer your question about “how do I know if I have a broken or fissured rib?”.

  • Pain in the chest when breathing deeply. You can consult this other article by FastlyHealin which we talk about rib pain when living: causes and how to remove it, as this does not always mean a fracture or fissure.
  • Change in the bone structure of the rib cage.
  • A lump that is felt when touching the chest.
  • Pain when touching a specific place on the rib cage (on acupressure).
  • Muscle pain in the area.
  • Difficulty in thoracic mobilization.
  • Hematoma on the outside of the chest.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Pain when sneezing and coughing.

All these symptoms are essential to go to the doctor in time. He performs the physical examination of the patient and, in addition, indicates the paraclinical or the appropriate tests to give the precise diagnosis of a rib fracture. A chest X-ray, as we can see in the image below, is the first study to be carried out indicated by a doctor to be able to verify that there is some damage to a rib, such as a fracture or a fissure.

In addition, other tests such as a chest CT scan or MRI may be indicated, which are capable of recording images ( CT, magnetic field, and wave) of structures within the chest.

What do I do if I have a cracked or broken rib?

The doctor is the one who will indicate the measures to be followed. However, it will depend on the severity of the fissure or fracture. Most of these problems heal in approximately six months, but you can learn more about them in this other FastlyHealarticle in which we explain how long a broken rib takes to heal.

The treatment for a broken rib or fissured may include:

  • Oral analgesic administration.
  • Avoid smoking, which leads to less difficulty in breathing.
  • The bandage around the ribs limits the movements of the rib cage and provides support and relief to the patient.
  • Apply ice locally where the injury is; it can be direct ice or through cold bands.
  • Rest, as it is recommended to take rest, that is, not to perform physical exercises or sudden movements, and to avoid excess weight to improve symptoms for at least one month.
  • Physiotherapy, which will be used only if the fracture is severe and the doctor indicates it, allows to improve mobilization and also reduce pain.
  • Surgery will be used as a last resort only if there are multiple fractures of the rib to achieve fixation and keep them together using plates and screws, given the compromise of the patient’s life.

Any rib fracture or fissure treatment aims to avoid serious complications, so it is essential to comply with the treatment plan previously indicated by the doctor or specialist.

Complications can range from severe damage to internal organs, such as a perforated lung, serious infections, and disruption of the blood supply.

As preventive measures, it is essential if you practice contact sports to protect the rib cage; in addition, you should avoid excessive training or exercise routine and consistently apply the appropriate techniques. Finally, it is essential to strengthen the bones (through the intake of calcium in the diet) to avoid any injury. FastlyHealreminds you to go to the doctor immediately after the first symptoms appear so that he can provide recommendations and appropriate and individualized treatment.

This article is merely informative, at FastlyHeal .com we do not have the power to prescribe medical treatments or make any type of diagnosis. We invite you to see a doctor in the case of presenting any type of condition or discomfort.

If you want to read more articles similar to How to know if I have a broken or cracked rib, we recommend that you enter our Bones, Joints, and Muscles category.

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