The ribs play vital roles in the body, particularly to protect internal organs and maintain stability while the muscles used when breathing contract and expand. Defined as a break or crack in one of the rib cage bones, a rib fracture is often caused by a direct blow to the chest. It may also be brought about by forceful coughing and may occur in people with bone diseases like osteoporosis or cancer that weakens the bones.
Treatment of rib fractures usually entails the management of pain while looking out for complications while waiting for the fracture to heal. Here are the ways to treat a fractured rib:
- Provide support to the ribs. Use a bandage to create an elastic wrap that is long enough to cover the midsection of the patient’s rib cage to the spine. This will provide support for the ribs and decrease pain by limiting movement. Rib support products are also commercially available. Make sure, however, not to wrap the whole chest because this may affect breathing. Keep a close eye on the patient’s breathing to check if the bandage or elastic wrap needs to be adjusted.
- Manage the pain. Rib fractures usually heal slowly, sometimes taking four to six weeks. Pain management is therefore important while waiting for the fracture to heal. Putting ice on the injury usually helps when combined with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for quick pain relief. Sitting up in bed also usually helps ease pain.
- Reduce physical activity. Patients diagnosed with fractured ribs are typically advised to restrict physical activity at least 24-48 hours after the injury. Rest, relaxation, and restricted movement – these three R's are vital at this time, especially since even the lightest chest movements like breathing can be painful.
- Monitor for complications. Keep in mind that fractured ribs can lead to serious complications so the patient should take great care in the things he does. It is just as vital to closely monitor for indications of complications brought about by the injury. A person with fractured rib, whether the injury is perceived as simple or serious, should be brought to the hospital immediately for proper diagnosis and for appropriate information about complications to watch out for.
- Keep lungs healthy. Keeping the lungs healthy is also part of recovering from the broken rib injury. The patients should spend time practicing deep breathing regularly. Some doctors suggest using a tool called an incentive spirometer to measure the capacity of the lungs and assess the recovery rate of the lungs while the fractured rib heals.
Although typically considered minor injuries, rib fractures can be really painful and, if not monitored and treated properly, may bring about serious complications. It is therefore vital that the injured person fully understands what he feels, based on the mechanism of the injury, to know whether the occurrence of certain symptoms necessitate a visit back to the doctor. Maintaining a healthy diet rich in proteins and minerals like calcium, silica, and magnesium, will also prove helpful to promote healing.