The pain associated with a broken rib usually occurs or worsens when you:
- Take a deep breath
- Press on the injured area
- Bend or twist your body
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have a very tender spot in your rib area that occurs after trauma or if you have difficulty breathing or pain with deep breathing.
Seek medical attention immediately if you feel pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that extends beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.
Broken ribs are most commonly caused by direct impacts — such as those from motor vehicle accidents, falls, child abuse or contact sports. Ribs also can be fractured by repetitive trauma from sports like golf and rowing or from severe and prolonged coughing.
The following factors can increase your risk of breaking a rib:
- Osteoporosis. Having this disease in which your bones lose their density makes you more susceptible to a bone fracture.
- Sports participation. Playing contact sports, such as hockey or football, increases your risk of trauma to your chest.
- Cancerous lesion in a rib. A cancerous lesion can weaken the bone, making it more susceptible to breaks.
A broken rib can injure blood vessels and internal organs. The risk increases with the number of broken ribs. Complications vary depending on which ribs break. Possible complications include:
- Torn or punctured aorta. A sharp end of a break in one of the first three ribs at the top of your rib cage could rupture your aorta or another major blood vessel.
- Punctured lung. The jagged end of a broken middle rib can puncture a lung and cause it to collapse.
- Lacerated spleen, liver or kidneys. The bottom two ribs rarely fracture because they have more flexibility than do the upper and middle ribs, which are anchored to the breastbone. But if you break a lower rib, the broken ends can cause serious damage to your spleen, liver or a kidney.
Jan. 12, 2016
- Karlson KA. Initial evaluation and management of rib fractures. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 30, 2015.
- Eiff MP, et al. Rib fractures. In: Fracture Management for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 30, 2015.
- Bulger EM. Inpatient management of traumatic rib fracture. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 30, 2015.
- Preventing falls and related fractures. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Fracture/prevent_falls_ff.asp. Accessed Oct. 30, 2015.