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About Rib Fractures

Your rib cage plays an essential part in protecting the lungs, heart, and other vital organs which is also called the thoracic cavity. When a trauma injury to the chest occurs, such as a car accident or fall, it may result in broken or fractured ribs.

What is a fractured rib?

A rib fracture is a crack or break in one of the bones of the rib cage. A break in the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone may also be called a fractured rib, even if the bone itself is not broken. Ribs with a minor fracture are potentially not as dangerous but could still be painful. However, a jagged edge of broken rib bone can damage internal organs and pose a more significant risk.

Types of rib fractures

Different types of rib fractures vary and may require different treatments. Only a healthcare professional can accurately diagnose your injuries.

  • Isolated Rib Fracture: Less severe fracture with one or two broken ribs. Patients with this rib fracture may not be a candidate for surgical treatment.
  • Multiple Rib Fractures: Three or more rib fractures can be considered more severe. Patients with this rib fracture are possible candidates for surgical treatment.


At times, broken ribs can heal on their own. Depending upon the severity of rib fractures, treatment options may vary. It's essential to know your treatment options for your type of fracture.

How do people break ribs?

The most common cause of a rib fracture is a direct impact to the chest, which can occur during various activities. However, some conditions can lead to a broken rib without your being hit very hard, including osteoporosis or cancerous lesions that weaken bones.


Automotive Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are among the most common causes of rib fractures in adults.1 Due to the impact during a collision, the driver may fracture a rib when coming into contact with the steering wheel, dashboard, or even a seatbelt.



The most common cause of injury for rib fractures in the elderly is a fall. Each year, 2.5 million older people are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries. More than 700,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury.1 Elderly patients who sustain blunt chest trauma with rib fractures have twice the mortality and thoracic morbidity than younger patients.2


Contact Sports

Physical activity, including contact sports, is the most common cause of rib fractures in young adults.1 Any game in which extreme contact occurs has a risk of damage to the ribs, resulting in rib fractures.


Severe or Prolonged Coughing 

If a cough is severe enough, generally due to another underlying issue, it could result in a fractured rib. Repeated motions, such as prolonged coughing, cause stress that may result in a broken rib.

Each year, trauma injuries account for 41 million emergency department visits, and 2.3 million hospitalizations across the United States.1 Rib fractures are one of the most common injuries following blunt trauma, occurring in approximately 10 percent of all trauma patients. More than 350,000 patients sustain rib injuries annually in the United States, and a significant number of trauma centers admit patients with rib fractures daily.2


How to tell if you have a broken rib?3

Sharp chest pain can occur when you have a broken rib. Here are a few signs that may tell you it’s time to visit your physician:

  • Your chest hurts when you take a deep breath
  • Your pain increases when you twist your body
  • Coughing or laughing causes pain


Steps to diagnosis

Consult your doctor if you have chest pain believed to be linked to a fractured rib. Your doctor will recommend you complete a CT Scan or X-ray to identify fractures and the severity of injuries. Find out what happens during diagnosis and what treatment options are available.

  1. Pacific Thoracic Surgery
  2. E.M. Bulger, et al, Rib Fractures in the Elderly, The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care (2000).
  3. Mayo Broken Ribs
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