Fractured Rib

Fractured ribs are common, especially in contact sports. They can happen after a direct blow with a blunt object, such as the handle of a stick, or as a result of forceful compression of the chest during a hard body tackle, as in rugby.

Presentation

  • Pain in the area of the ribs , especially when breathing deep, coughing or sneezing.
  • Tenderness and swelling over the ribs area.

Diagnosis:

  • An X-ray of the chest confirms a fracture and excludes underlying lung damage.

Management

  • Provide adequate pain relief.
  • Fractured ribs generally heal on their own without any treatment.
  • Avoid binding or strapping the chest as this prevents the player from expanding their lungs.
  • Very occasionally, if several ribs are fractured and the player has difficulty breathing they may be admitted to hospital for a few days for observation.

Complications

  • Occasionally the sharp end of a fractured rib can puncture the lung and cause leakage of air (pneumothorax) or bleeding (hemothorax) into the area surrounding the lung. This is also known as a punctured lung.
  • If the player has increased breathing difficulties a punctured lung should be considered.
  • Treatment in hospital includes draining the pleural cavity by means of a tube inserted through the chest wall.