Ribs mostly break as a result of falling on the chest. More infrequently, ribs can also break without external trauma if the patient has osteoporosis. In addition to pain, shortness of breath and sometimes even an impaired flow of blood (circulatory insufficiency) can occur. A single broken rib usually heals without complications, but if several ribs are fractured this is often accompanied by other injuries.
- Shallow breathing (owing to the pain)
- Shortness of breath (often if several ribs have been broken)
- Collection of blood and air in the chest cavity
- Lung collapse with reduction of oxygen uptake
Sharp ends of ribs can injure neighbouring organs. The heart and aorta are at particular risk, which can be life-threatening.
Causes and treatment
- Fall or blow to the chest
- Impact to ribs
- Osteoporosis (in some cases, coughing hard can be enough to cause a fracture)
Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital
- Precise observation and physical examination of the chest
- CT scan (computed tomography)
- Bandage/corset to support the chest
- Operation to stabilise the fractures
- Treatment of the accompanying injuries
What can I do myself?
Get a doctor to diagnose a rib fracture. Self-treatment is not recommended.