Accidents, falls, strenuous coughing, etc. can conduce to cracks in the ribs. However, since cracked ribs cannot be put into casts, they are left to heal on their own. Within two months, the cracks heal up, however, it takes another couple of months before the ribs regain their former strength.
Rib cage comprises fragile ribs, which are susceptible to damage and injury. Direct injury is not always necessary for the ribs to crack, as simple actions like strenuous coughing, may also cause cracks in the ribs. Cracked ribs can result from a fall or an accident, wherein one falls flat on the chest. Assaults, contact sports, etc. are also responsible for cracked ribs.
Cracked ribs are not commonly seen in children and babies, as their bones are fairly flexible. If you suspect a cracked rib in your child, then it is important that you uncover the cause, because cracked ribs in children are often a sign of child abuse.
Cracking of the first rib is pretty uncommon as it is well protected by the clavicle bone. Middle ribs are most susceptible to cracks and fractures due to their frontal location. Rib number 7 and 10 are the ones that have to endure maximum number of cracks. The only symptom of cracked rib that you are likely to experience is sharp pain while breathing. As the ribs move while breathing, you will experience pain every time you breathe deeply. You may also experience pain towards the side of the cracked rib. However, the pain is usually not persistent, but surfaces mostly at times when you take a deep breath, bend, laugh or roll.
Cracked ribs may or may not be detected in an X-ray. The pain in the chest while breathing or coughing, is what tells the patient for sure he or she has a cracked rib. Cracked ribs are not as dangerous as broken ribs, as there is no risk of broken fragments of bones dangling dangerously, and puncturing your lungs. Nonetheless, it can be pretty painful. The cracks may be deep or hairline in nature. Since cracked ribs cannot be held in a cast, they are left as they are to heal with time. The surrounding ribs and tendons protect the cracked rib from further damage, and also promote its healing. Cracked ribs gradually heal on their own, however, the person has to endure a lot of pain in the meantime. Hence, the basic treatment aims at reducing the pain of the sufferer.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen, are given to alleviate the severe pain associated with the cracks in the ribs. Paracetamol or some stronger painkillers may also be prescribed if the pain is severe. Nerve blocks may also be prescribed if the pain is unbearable, which will block the sensation around the nerves supplying the cracked rib.
The best treatment for cracked ribs involves taking plenty of rest, and not doing activities that can cause further damage to the ribs, or even worse, your lungs! However, adequate mobility is also important. Twisting and turning on the bed will prove to be painful, thus, one must be cautious. Care must be taken to prevent quick and jerky movements. One must avoid any kind of strenuous activities, especially those involving lifting something heavy, bending, etc.
Taping ribs is one treatment option that was widely implemented earlier. The strapping technique is not recommended even though it relieves pain, because strapping the chest may inhibit lung movement, if the chest is not taped correctly. Some patients have experienced lung collapse, after using straps, which is why this form of treatment is no longer promoted. Hence, if you must, make sure you always follow the correct technique for a rib tape. Moreover, always make use of cloth strips or athletic wraps to tape your ribs.
When the initial phase of severe pain subsides and exercise becomes possible, the physiotherapist will suggest various chest stretching exercises. Exhaling exercises are useful, because taking long, deep breaths, every hour during the recovery period, one can prevent the lungs from getting congested or catching pneumonia. This is because taking shallow breaths is believed to cause pneumonia. Although taking deep breaths is going to be extremely painful, doing this will do a lot good to one’s cracked ribs, as well as lungs.
After 4 weeks, the pain associated with coughing, sneezing, etc. will subside, however, local tenderness will be felt. Cracked ribs will take about 6 to 8 weeks before all the symptoms of the injury fade away. Although a person can get back into routine activities after the healing period, those involved in contact sports, or jobs involving physical labor should still wait back, because the rib needs at least 6 months to regain former strength.
As mentioned before, the best treatment for a cracked rib is to wait for it to heal naturally. However, if you experience problem with your breathing for a prolonged time, then do not hesitate to see a doctor on a priority basis. If at anytime during the recovery period, one experiences fever, increased difficulty in breathing, pain radiating from chest to arms, or abdominal pain, one should rush to the hospital as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is intended for information purpose only. Do not use the advice mentioned herein as a substitute for an expert’s opinion.