Almost every part of our body can suffer a fracture at one time or another. The most common fractures or injuries the body may suffer from trauma to the chest are rib fractures. In fact, over 50% of all thoracic injuries from nonpenetrating trauma result in rib fractures. Rib fractures, by themselves, are not usually life threatening, but they can be an underlying indication of a chest or abdominal problem. Rib fractures can occur in a number of ways. The elderly most often get rib fractures from falls, either while standing on at great heights. Automobile accidents are the highest cause for rib fractures in adults, while young adults and children suffer rib fractures most often from athletic and recreational activities. Occasionally, patients have suffered rib fractures from excessive coughing while they were sick.
The human body has a chest wall that protects the human organs by providing a covering, which are the sternum, clavicles and ribs. Our chest needs to be intact and in good condition for normal respiration. In other words, if we have problems in or under our chest wall, we may have difficulty breathing. Rib fractures can cause problems with our respiratory functions or interfere with our muscles working correctly. The result can be insufficient ventilation. If rib fractures are serious and have fragments in the chest wall, it can lead to hemothorax (blood in the lungs or chest cavity) or pneumothorax (pneumonia in the chest).
Some of our ribs are more susceptible to fractures than others are, with the first rib seldom being fractured because of the protection it gets from the clavicle or collarbone. If it does become fractures, there can be serious complications to our nervous system and spinal column. The most commonly fractured ribs are ribs 4 through 9, which are the middle ribs. Rib fractures to these ribs usually occur from an injuries that crush the chest or from indirect blows or physical trauma. These ribs are located in the weakest spot in the chest. The lower ribs can also become fractured, which can cause injury to the diaphragm. Regardless of what kind of rib fractures we suffer, they all can be quite painful because they affect and make our breathing more difficult. If many ribs become fractured, the result can be a flailed chest, which is when the chest is caved in. This condition can be quite serious and life threatening.
Some of the symptoms of rib fractures are difficulty breathing without pain, a part of the chest wall moving independently from the rest and a raspy sound when breathing. The most common treatment for rib fractures are rest, light physical therapy and, possibly, wrapping the chest wall. Over the counter pain medications are usually recommended.