Rib Fractures

Professional Rib Fracture Treatment

The rib cage consists of 12 pairs of ribs which serve to safeguard our vital organs – forming a protective “cage” for our organs. Those organs would be extremely exposed without the rib cage, as the core of our body can take quite the beating during physical activity – especially while playing contact sports. In the right set of circumstances, high force delivered to the rib cage could result in a rib fracture.

While the vast majority of rib fractures are not dangerous, it is important to be cautious. In cases of severe injury, such as a flail chest where three or more consecutive rib fractures occur in multiple locations, breathing mechanics are altered, constituting a medical emergency.

During normal breathing patterns, you should notice the expansion of the rib cage during inhalation and its contraction during exhalation. Severe rib fractures make breathing painful, resulting in shallow breaths and reduced lung expansion, which increases the risk of complications like pneumonia.

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Rib Fracture Causes

Rib fractures typically result from blunt trauma to the thoracic area caused by various factors like an opponent’s impact, a ball, or falling on the ground. Additionally, repetitive stress activities such as extensive overhead throwing, rowing, or weightlifting can lead to stress fractures in the ribs. Such fractures can potentially damage internal organs. While an X-ray is commonly advised to check for lung-related injuries, it may not always detect rib fractures effectively. For accurate diagnosis, a CT scan is recommended, especially if there’s pain across multiple ribs or suspicion of multi-organ trauma.

Rib Fracture Symptoms

Common symptoms of a rib fracture include:

  • Point tenderness
  • Pain with deep breathing
  • Pain with bending, lifting, and twisting
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Pain with coughing or sneezing

Rib Fracture Treatment

If you’re dealing with a rib fracture, Herlong Sports Physical Therapy can help you recover properly so you can get back to peak physical performance.

Treatment for a rib fracture will consist of relative rest, deep breathing exercises to reduce the risk of pulmonary complications such as pneumonia, gradual re-introduction of activity, and strength training to reduce the risk of future injury.

A rehabilitation program for your rib fracture will be designed by a doctor of physical therapy specifically for your location of injury and the demands required for your sport, occupation, and life.

HSPT patients do not need a doctor’s referral to enroll in a physical rehabilitation program. We also accept all major insurance plans. Contact us to begin your rehabilitation program!

How Long do Rib Fractures Take to Heal?

While rib fractures typically heal within 4-8 weeks, some may take up to 3 months. Athletes with a single rib fracture and no organ damage can potentially return to sports within 1-3 weeks if proper protection is ensured, although a delayed return is generally recommended.

Avoid taping or wrapping the thorax for the treatment of a fractured rib as it could elevate the risk of pulmonary issues like pneumonia.

Rib Fracture Exercises

Deep breathing

  1. 1. In a seated position, take a deep breath in through your nose until you start to feel pain
  2. 2. Once pain is felt, exhale through your mouth with pursed lips (as if you were going to whistle) as long as comfortable.
  3. 3. Repeat steps 1 & 2 ten times, gradually increasing the tolerance of rib motion during breathing.

Child’s Pose Rock Back

  1. 1. Start on hand and knees or all-fours position
  2. 2. Rock your hips back to your feet allowing your arms to stretch overhead
  3. 3. Rock back up to starting position
  4. 4. Repeat steps 1-3 ten times for a complete set.

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