The sternum, which is also referred to as the breastbone, is located at the upper-middle section of the chest region. It connects to the true ribs through cartilage, and its superior end supports the collarbone. It is divided into three sections: manubrium, gladiolus, and the xiphoid process. Manubrium is placed at the upper section of the sternum and attaches to the collarbone and the first two pairs of true ribs. The middle portion of this bone is referred to as the gladiolus or the body of the sternum. The manubrium and the body of the sternum meet at an angle. This is referred to as sternal angle. The cartilaginous structure at the inferior end of the sternum is referred to as xiphoid process.
Though the breastbone is quite strong, a severe blow to the chest or blunt force can cause a sternal fracture. It is the sternal angle that is most commonly affected by blunt trauma to the chest.
Causes and Symptoms
Motor vehicle accidents emerge as one of the common causes of sternum fracture. However, strong the sternum might be, it could develop a hairline fracture or break in the event of blunt force trauma to the chest. This is likely to occur, when one is struck with a heavy object, or receives a severe blow to the chest. The injury may be significant in case a heavy object falls on the chest or one's chest slams against the steering wheel in a motor vehicle accident. Those who play direct contact sports are more likely to sustain high-impact injuries that can displace the sternum and push it into the chest cavity. Repeated stress to the chest could occur in case of weightlifters and golfers.
Aging also affects the body in many ways, and for some, it may affect the bone density. The reduced bone density could make one susceptible to sternum fractures. Even a mild injury could put individuals affected by joint disorders such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis at a risk. If an injury causes the sternum to break, the affected individual is likely to experience symptoms such as chest pain, painful breathing, bruising, redness, or swelling.
Treatment and Recovery
The best way to rule out a sternum fracture is to get a thorough medical checkup done. An X-ray examination along with other imaging procedures can help doctors ascertain the extent of damage to the sternum. If the sternum has developed a small crack, one may not require surgery. Since the use of a brace/cast may adversely impact the patient's breathing, its use is often discouraged.
Drug therapy may help in alleviating the distressing symptoms. Doctors usually recommend the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics for pain relief. One may take about two to three months to recover from a cracked sternum. In order to speed up the process of recovery, one will need to refrain from intensive workouts or any activity that puts pressure on the sternum. One of the common complications of such a fracture is its impact on breathing. A fractured sternum could interfere with breathing, and cause shortness of breath or labored breathing. In severe cases, one may need mechanical ventilation.
Surgical reconstruction would be recommended if the breastbone has been displaced. A displaced sternum will need to be placed back in its place. This may involve the use of an internal fixation device. At times, sternum could get fractured after a heart surgery. A heart surgery often involves the separation of sternum. After the heart surgery is over, the sternum is then fixed with the help of sternal wires or titanium plates.
The recovery period usually ranges from three to four months, but some people may take longer to heal. The affected individual might experience painful breathing, if the sternum wires pull through the sternum. A broken breastbone could even pull the rib cage out of alignment. So, if one has been experiencing such symptoms, medical assistance must be sought. After undergoing the surgery, one must follow the doctor's guidelines so as to speed up the healing process.
A cracked sternum is one of the most common causes of pain in and around the breastbone. The affected individual might also experience painful breathing and chest pain. Complications can be averted, if this condition is diagnosed and treated at the earliest.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.