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Care After Rib Fracture

Having your rib fractured can be a very painful condition as your ribs move when you breathe, cough and also while moving the upper body. The ribs that are in the middle of the chest are the ones that are prone to break most often. Rib fractures are often accompanied by other organ injuries that need to be diagnosed properly along with the fracture.

A rib fracture pain can increase on taking deeper breaths. The pain from a fractured rib can also impede your breathing, leading to a chest infection in many cases. In addition to this, as the rib cage protects many vital organs in the chest and abdomen, a rib fracture can be associated with other injuries to internal organs and blood vessels.

What are the most common causes of Rib fracture?

The human body has 12 pairs of ribs that wrap around the chest. The ribs can be fractured in trauma such as a car crash, a fall from a height or a contact-sports injury. Rib fractures can also be a result from repetitive movements in sports, such as golf.

It is important to see a doctor immediately if your rib fracture is accompanied by:

  • Increasing shortness of breath

  • Trouble breathing deeply or coughing

  • Unusual cough, or a cough that produces mucus or blood

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fever

  • Feeling dizzy or weak

How is a rib fracture diagnosed?

A rib fracture can be assessed by a doctor by performing a physical examination and by looking at a chest X-ray. If your rib fracture seems like a complex injury, then you may be advised further to get a CT scan done to help diagnose any related injuries.

What to Expect after Rib Fracture?

Healing from a rib fracture takes at least 6 weeks. If you injure other organs, you may need to stay in the hospital. Otherwise, you will be sent back home for further healing. Most people with broken ribs do not need surgery.

After a rib fracture, you will not be given a belt or a bandage to wear around your chest because these would keep your ribs from moving when you breathe or cough. Doctors do not any more prescribe compression wraps for rib fractures, because they can restrict breathing, leading to pneumonia, or even a partial lung collapse.

How is a rib fracture treated?

Most people with rib fractures are sent home with a doctor's advice on taking care of themselves. In most cases, a fractured rib will heal on its own in about six weeks. Pain management is important, especially in the first few days after an injury. There are many options for pain control - these will be recommended to you by your doctor. You should also be mindful of the following:

  • Stay active while avoiding movements that put pressure on your injury.

  • Always be aware of your breathing. Try to breathe deeply and cough gently at least once every hour. You may want to hold a pillow against the site of your injury to make this easier.

  • Your doctor may give you an incentive spirometer, this device helps you to monitor your lung function.

  • See your doctor immediately if you develop new symptoms, including shortness of breath, fever, or pain that is so bad you can’t breathe or cough.

Pain Relief after Rib Fracture

  • Apply an ice pack 20 minutes of every hour you are awake for the first 2 days, then 10 to 20 minutes 3 times daily as needed to reduce pain and swelling. Wrap the ice pack in a cloth before applying to the injured area.

  • You may need prescription pain medicines (narcotics) to keep your pain under control while your bones heal.

  • Take these medicines on the schedule your provider prescribed.

  • To avoid becoming constipated, drink more fluids, eat high-fiber foods, and use stool softeners.

  • To avoid nausea or vomiting, try taking your pain medicines with food.

  • Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your provider.

  • Tell your provider about any other medicines you are taking as drug interactions may occur.

Activity after Rib Fracture

It is important to stay active. Do not rest in bed all day. Your provider will talk with you about when you can return to:

  • Your everyday activities

  • Work, which will depend on the type of job you have

  • Sports or other high impact activity

  • While you heal, avoid movements that put painful pressure on your ribs. These include doing crunches and pushing, pulling, or lifting heavy objects.

Activity to avoid after Rib Fracture

Following is a list of activities to avoid:

  • lifting anything over 4 Kg

  • playing contact sports

  • doing any activities that require pushing, pulling, or stretching, including crunches and pull-ups

  • engaging in high-impact activities, such as running, horseback riding, etc

  • playing golf

Sleeping after Rib Fracture

Sleeping on your back and sitting up straight are the 2 viable positions for sleeping after rib fracture. Your choice will be based on your level of comfort.

Sleeping on your back:

Sleeping on your back may be painful due to the force exerted on the rib cage by the pressure originating from the spine. This pain can give you sleepless nights, which may cause sleep deprivation leading to slow healing. You might also start to experience hip pain depending on the firmness of your mattress.

Sleeping sitting up straight :

Ideally, this is the best sleep position for patients with broken ribs. This sleeping position can help your broken ribs heal more quickly than lying down on the bed. Sleeping while lying down may exert unwanted pressures on the spine, which might be transferred to the ribs. This, in turn, causes the ribs to ache, making it difficult to get out of bed.

Deep Breathing after Rib Fracture

Taking big and deep breaths allows for your lungs to expand. Normally, this isn’t a problem. But in case of a broken rib, taking deep breaths can be painful.

But inhaling shallow breathes over time can increase your risk of developing pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. For these reasons, after a broken rib - before you'll be sent home you will be advised to do some breathing exercises to do as you recover. A spirometer is used to expand your lungs and take deeper breathes - spirometer measures the volume of air you breathe in and out.

To help with the chest pain, consider taking your pain medication just before you start your breathing exercises. Holding a pillow gently, but firmly, against your chest may lessen the pain. Work on taking slow, steady and deep breaths.

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