The adult human skeleton consists of 206 bones. These bones are held together by muscles, cartilages, tendons and ligaments. The human rib cage is a part of the human skeleton. It provides structural support to the upper body. The rib cage is made up of twelve pairs of ribs, a T-shaped bone called sternum, twelve thoracic vertebrae and costal cartilages. Costal cartilages are basically bars of hyaline cartilage or articular cartilage that are located between the ribs. Out of the twelve pairs of ribs, the first seven pairs attach to the sternum through the costal cartilage while the false ribs attach to the cartilage of the preceding ribs. The last two pairs are not connected to sternum at all.
Each of the twelve pairs of ribs is connected at the back of the rib cage to a vertebra in the spine. The rib cage not only provides support to the upper body, but also acts as a protective covering for the heart, lungs and blood vessels located in the chest cavity. The costal cartilages allows the rib cage to move up and down as one inhales and exhales.
Though the rib cage is strong, there is a limit to which it can withstand force. If the chest is hit with a great force, the ribs can develop cracks or get fractured. One could even suffer from a rib cartilage injury due to such an impact. The rib cartilage can develop tears. If the impact is greater, the cartilage may even separate from the ribs. This condition is medically referred to as costochondral separation. Here's some information on the symptoms as well as the treatment of rib cartilage injuries.
Injuries that May Cause Damage to the Rib Cartilage
Before we move on to the symptoms of torn cartilage in ribs, let's look into the circumstances under which the rib cartilage may get damaged. Rib cage injuries are most likely to occur when a person is physically assaulted. If one receives severe blows to the chest or is hit hard by an object, there is a great likelihood of damage to the ribs, rib cartilage or intercostal muscles (muscles located between the ribs). High-speed collisions or motor vehicle accidents wherein the chest bangs against the steering wheel may also lead to bruised ribs. At times, inflammation of cartilage may occur as a result of repetitive strain to the rib cage. Those who play sports that involve swinging of the arms with considerable force or sudden jerky movements can also suffer from soft tissue injuries involving the costal cartilages or the intercostal muscles. Those who play golf or tennis are at a greater risk of suffering from soft tissue rib cage injuries.
Crush injuries wherein a heavy object falls over the chest could also cause the rib cartilage to get inflamed. Lifting heavy weights or making a violent or jerky lateral motion can also cause strain to the structures of the rib cage. Violent twisting movements of the torso could also cause intercostal strain which in turn may lead to chest pain and labored breathing. However, symptoms may be severe if one suffers from costochondral separation. This is a condition wherein the rib tears away from the costal cartilage and gets detached from the sternum. Though costochondral separation usually occurs due to blunt chest trauma, at times violent coughing could also cause the rib to separate from its cartilaginous attachment.
Costochondral separation could also make one susceptible to costochondritis. This is a medical condition that is characterized by inflammation at the junction of the rib and the costal cartilage. While bruising, swelling and tenderness at the site of injury are the most common symptoms, one may even suffer from painful, labored breathing. Since intercostal muscles assist in inhalation and expiration, the pain that the affected individual may experience while deep breathing, sneezing, coughing or laughing is due to the inflammation of the intercostal muscles.
Treatment of Torn Cartilage in the Ribs
Since rib injuries can cause the ribs to crack, it's extremely important to get a thorough checkup done. Chest X-rays can help the doctors ascertain whether rib cage pain is the result of a rib injury or a rib fracture. These can also reveal whether the cartilage has torn way from the rib. Cracks or any other signs of damage can be easily spotted with the help of X-rays, bone scan or other imaging procedures. While treatment of rib fractures is more elaborate and could even involve surgery, drug therapy may suffice in case of a minor cartilage injury. he use of pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids is usually recommended to reduce the intensity of pain and bring down the inflammation. In severe cases, when the patient is unable to breathe properly, he/she may need mechanical ventilation. As is the case with any injury, taking rest is the most important aspect of treatment or injury rehabilitation. It is essential that the patient refrains from indulging in any physical activity that may adversely affect the process of recovery.
The recovery time usually ranges from three to four months. This slow recovery process is attributed to slow healing of cartilages and ligaments which in turn is attributed to the lack of blood supply. The only way one can speed up the healing process is to ensure that there is minimal strain to the affected area. In case of any other injury, the strain that can result from movement is usually restricted by immobilizing the affected area. The use of compression wraps, however, is not encouraged by doctors in case of rib injuries. The reason why use of rib belts or compression wraps is not suggested is the possibility of an adverse impact of the compression wraps or rib belts on the patient's breathing. Once the cartilage seems to have healed considerably, one can gradually resume the routine activities. Since inflamed intercostal muscles or torn rib cartilage may lead to painful breathing, one may also benefit from performing certain breathing exercises.
This was a brief overview on rib cartilage injuries. Though drug therapy may ease the pain to some extent, it is extremely important that one follows the suggested self-care measures properly. It's essential that one refrains from any strenuous physical activities that may strain the rib cage. The time one would take to recover would greatly depend on how religiously one complies with the self-care guidelines. So, take the medicines on time and follow the self-care measures to promote a speedy recovery.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.