What is a rib fracture?

A rib fracture is a break in one of the bones that compose the rib cage. Ribs may be fully broken or partially broken (cracked). When a rib is completely broken, the edges of the bones pose a danger of damaging or tearing internal organs, such as the lungs, liver or spleen, as well as blood vessels.

Bone fractures, including fractures of the rib, are most commonly caused by trauma, such as fall or a motor vehicle accident. Certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, weaken the bones and increase the risk of a rib fracture. Cancer that has spread to the bones of the rib cage can also predispose to the development of a rib fracture. In some cases of weakened bones, even violent coughing may be sufficient to cause a rib fracture.

Anyone can sustain a rib fracture or other type of bone fracture. However, older people with more brittle bone structure are at a higher risk of suffering fractures from trauma that would not result in fracture in a younger person.

Rib fractures can pose serious health risks, including punctures of the lungs or other internal organs or the rupture of major arteries. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you believe you may have a rib fracture.


What are the symptoms of a rib fracture?

Both complete and incomplete rib fractures will exhibit similar symptoms, although symptoms are likely to be exacerbated with a complete fracture.

Common symptoms of rib fracture

If you have experienced a rib fracture, you may have symptoms that include:


What causes a rib fracture?

Rib fractures are typically caused by trauma to the chest. Common causes of such trauma include falls, motor vehicle accidents, or direct blows to the chest, such as you might sustain in a sporting event. It is also possible to develop hairline fractures when constant stress is placed on the bone, such as from continuous o... Read more about rib fracturecauses


How is a rib fracture treated?

Treatment for rib fractures will depend on the severity of the fracture. Many rib fractures are incomplete fractures that will heal on their own over time. Pain relieving medications may be necessary to manage your symptoms. While a broken arm can be immobilized in a cast and sling, there is no effective means of immobilizing a fractured rib. If you have an incomplete rib fracture your doctor w... Read more about rib fracturetreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 6, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Bones, Joints and Muscles

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