Bruised ribs, rib fractures, and rib cartilage injuries could occur due to falls, accidents, or blunt force trauma to the chest. If a person suffers from a bruised rib, he/she is most likely to experience pain while breathing or flexing the torso. The following write-up provides information on bruised ribs symptoms and the treatment options.
The human rib cage comprises twelve pairs of curved bars of bones that are called ribs, twelve thoracic vertebrae, and a T-shaped bone called sternum. It encloses the vital organs of the thoracic cavity. Though the ribs are quite strong, they could become bruised or may even fracture, if they are hit with a force that is greater than the force they can withstand. Rib injuries could be superficial or deep.
The severity of the injury depends on the force with which the rib cage is hit. The extent of damage also depends on how quickly the force is delivered. When the ribs are subjected to blunt force trauma, they get pushed against the muscles surrounding them. This can cause them to get bruised.
A fall from a height, crush injury, motor vehicle accident, or trauma to the chest can lead to bruised ribs. Under such circumstances, the affected individual is most likely to experience difficulty in breathing. At times, bruises could develop due to an intercostal muscle strain, which may occur as a result of violent coughing.
Symptoms of Bruised Ribs
A bruise, which is medically referred to as a contusion, occurs when an injury to a bone or the soft tissue causes the small capillaries that lie under the skin to rupture. The characteristic sign of a bruise is discoloration of the skin, which results when the blood from the ruptured blood vessels gets trapped under the skin. One of the most common bruised rib symptoms is that the affected individual experiences pain while taking deep breaths. Besides the pain and visible signs of bruising near the site of trauma or injury, the other symptoms that may accompany bruised ribs include:
◘ Tenderness, swelling, and inflammation around the affected area
◘ Pleuritic pain (pain while taking deep breaths)
◘ Pain while coughing, sneezing, or laughing
◘ Shortness of breath
◘ Sharp pain in the ribs
◘ Pain on bending or moving the torso
◘ Inability to sleep on the side of injury
When the ribs get bruised, the lungs may not be able to expand fully. The affected individual may develop a lung infection, which in turn, may lead to pneumonia. In case of an injury wherein one or more ribs have broken, there is a risk of the lung getting punctured by the sharp ends of the ribs. This is a very serious condition that can be averted only if medical assistance is sought immediately.
Blunt force trauma to the chest is one of the most common causes of bruised ribs. The ribs may get bruised or fractured under the following circumstances.
◘ Those who play contact sports such as football, ice hockey, rugby, etc., are definitely at a greater risk of suffering from rib injuries.
◘ Ribs could get bruised in case of an accident involving a high velocity impact on the chest. This may happen if the chest gets slammed against the steering wheel of the car.
◘ Ribs could develop cracks if a person falls from a great height or slips down the stairs.
◘ There’s also the possibility of getting bruised ribs from coughing. Constant and violent coughing could cause stress to the sternocostal and costochondral junction of the rib cage. Violent coughing due to whooping cough, pneumonia, bronchitis, etc., could be a contributory factor for bruised ribs.
◘ Crush injuries occur when a heavy object lands on the chest with a great force. The ribs are most likely to get bruised due to such injuries.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Rib injuries could cause a lot of discomfort, and could take a long time to heal. It is therefore essential to identify bruised rib symptoms at the earliest. If medical assistance is sought on time, the injury can heal within three to four weeks. Certain diagnostic tests and imaging studies are usually conducted for ascertaining the extent of damage to the ribs. Doctors usually conduct a chest X-ray to rule out the possibility of a rib fracture. A chest X-ray not only helps to ascertain the nature of injury and the extent of damage, but can also help to diagnose the signs of pneumothorax, pulmonary contusion, or trauma to the spleen or liver. A chest CT scan can also provide information that can help to determine the number of ribs that may be affected by the injury.
While drug therapy and application of ice packs is an integral part of the treatment, doctors recommend complete rest so as to speed up the healing process. The treatment options and self-care measures include:
◘ The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs is often suggested. At times, the use of narcotic pain medication may be recommended.
◘ Applying an ice pack on the affected area will also help to relieve the pain.
◘ Taking periodic deep breaths proves beneficial when it comes to stretching the intercostal muscles.
◘ Doctors usually caution against the use of the rib belts or tapes for immobilizing the affected area, as that may increase the risk of pneumonia.
◘ It is best not to take part in strenuous physical activities and sports that can cause further damage to the ribs.
◘ Those who are involved in contact sports must wear protective gear or equipment to protect the chest from any sudden trauma or injury.
◘ Performing gentle stretching exercises could help to strengthen the muscles. However, these exercises must be performed only after the injury has healed considerably.
Bruised ribs usually take around 3 to 4 weeks to heal completely. If the injury is severe, the healing period may extend up to 10 weeks or more. So, if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, consult a doctor immediately. Do not exercise and lift heavy weights as that would aggravate the condition. Do not self-medicate. Though injuries cannot always be averted, you can lower the risk by following safety precautions.
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.