How Do I Know if I Have a Broken Rib?

No matter how you look at it, having a fractured bone is painful. Add in breathing difficulties to the injury and your quality of life can be severely impaired.

The rib cage plays an essential role in human anatomy. The twelve ribs on each side serve as an all-around shield for an individual’s most vital organs: the heart and the lungs. If one of the ribs is broken, in addition to the pain and discomfort, the person could potentially experience life-threatening complications, such as damage to blood vessels and internal organs.

Broken Rib Causes

The most common cause of a broken rib is trauma. While it’s often caused by a particular blow, it’s also possible to break a rib from the cumulative effect of regularly encountering blunt force, such as when a person plays contact sports or suffers from physical abuse.

Can you break a rib from coughing?

While there are certain instances that make it obvious that there has been an injury (such as a car accident or a fall), a rib fracture could also be caused by something that may seem less innocuous, such as prolonged coughing.

Therefore, even if you haven’t experienced blunt trauma, if you’ve noticed any of the signs listed below, seek medical attention immediately.

Broken Rib Symptoms

The most common symptoms of a broken rib include the following:

  • Pain when breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing
  • Pain when twisting the torso or bending over
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tenderness to the touch
  • Swelling

Broken Rib Risk Factors

In addition to high-risk activities such as playing football or hockey, people with an underlying illness are at a higher risk of suffering from a rib fracture. These include:

In addition, other risk factors include:

  • Being post-menopausal
  • Obesity
  • Being over the age of 65
  • Severe coughing

Broken Rib Treatment

If you’ve suffered from a fractured rib, all you can do about it outside of surgery is take plenty of time to rest. In addition, there are several things you can do to promote faster healing and increase your comfort level:

  • Wear loose clothing
  • Hold a pillow against the chest when coughing or sneezing
  • Avoid laying down for long periods of time
  • Do not lift heavy objects
  • Sleep in an upright position

If a portion of the rib is diseased or if the bones are misaligned, the doctor may recommend surgery.

Broken Rib Recovery Time

Recovery time depends on the severity of the injury. If surgery is not needed, the patient could have a full recovery within six to eight weeks. If doing a surgical procedure is necessary, that time will be extended.

Broken Ribs Complications

Complications of a fractured rib include bruised lungs, pneumonia, breathing difficulties, lightheadedness, bleeding around the lungs, or a collapsed lung. This is why it’s crucial to seek emergency care if you believe you may have a broken rib.

Preventing a Broken Rib

While accidents can’t be prevented, there are certain things you can do to lower the risk of fracturing a rib:

  • Wear protective gear when playing sports
  • Always wear a seatbelt when traveling in a motor vehicle
  • Consume foods high in Calcium and Vitamin D
  • If you are elderly or have an underlying medical condition, install grab bars in the shower, always hold on to stair banisters, and remove rugs
  • Maintain a healthy weight
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