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 will most likely suggest a regimen of pain relief medications and limited movement to allow the rib to heal on its own. It is important that you do not tightly tape or wrap the rib cage area, since this can lead to an inability to breathe in deeply, increasing your risk of pneumonia or other problems.

Surgical intervention may be needed for severe rib fractures or fractures that damage internal organs.

What are the potential complications of a rib fracture?

Some rib fractures can cause serious or life-threatening complications. To minimize your risk of complications it is important to follow the treatment plan you and your health care provider design specifically for you. Complications of complete rib fractures include:

  • Damage to internal organs
  • Disruption of blood supply
  • Punctured lung
  • Sepsis (life-threatening bacterial blood infection)
  • Serious infections


  1. Broken bone. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
  2. Fractures (Broken Bones). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  3. DeLee, JC, Drez, D Jr., Miller, MD (Eds). DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice (3rd Ed.). Philadelphia: Saunders, 2009.


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.... Read more about rib fractureintroduction


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

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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