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Diagnosis and Treatment


Upon injury, there may be signs of bleeding or bruising externally as well as difficulty breathing. If you or a loved one believe you have a broken rib, consult a doctor for guidance. It's essential to get correctly diagnosed to rule out more severe injuries and learn about treatment options that can help your recovery.

After completing a physical examination where your doctor may press gently on your ribs and listen to your chest, he or she may recommend the following tests to identify fractures and the severity of injuries:1

  • X-Ray: X-rays use low levels of radiation to make bones visible. X-rays often have problems revealing fresh rib fractures, especially if the bone has a small crack.1
  • CT Scan: This often can uncover rib fractures that X-rays might miss. CT scans expose injuries to soft tissue and blood vessels by taking X-rays from various angles and combining them to show your body's internal structures.1
  • MRI: An MRI uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to build images of the soft tissue in your chest and organs around the ribs to determine if there is damage and reveal subtle rib fractures if present.1
  • Bone Scan: A small amount of radioactive material is injected into your bloodstream. It collects in the bones and is detected by a scanner to view stress fractures caused by repetitive trauma (i.e., a lot of coughing).1

Once you receive a fractured rib diagnosis from your doctor, you may have two options for treatment: conservative non-surgical treatment or surgical treatment. 


Conservative Non-Surgical Treatment

If fractures are not as severe, your doctor may recommend bed rest and pain therapy. Most broken ribs potentially heal on their own within six weeks with restricting activities and icing the area regularly, which can help with healing and pain relief.1 Depending on your pain level, your doctor might prescribe something you can take for pain relief or an injectable form of anesthesia to help numb the nerves directly around the rib in the first few days following a rib fracture.2

Once the pain is under control, your doctor might prescribe breathing exercises or respiratory therapy to help you breathe deeply. Continued shallow breathing may put you at risk of developing pneumonia.1


Surgical Treatment 

If you or a loved one has three or more fractured ribs, severe chest damage, surgery may be needed. During the procedure, your surgeon may implant a metal plate or bridge fixed to your bone to reset the fractured rib into place, called surgical fixation. This implant is permanent and not meant to be removed.

Several clinical studies show that patients treated with surgical fixation may benefit when compared to the conservative treatment, such as:

  • 69% Lower Risk of Mortality3
  • 4.95 Fewer Days of Mechanical Ventilation4
  • 4.5 Fewer Days in ICU3,5
  • 7.4 Fewer Days in the Hospital6
  • 61% Less Risk of Pneumonia4, 7, 8
  • 66% Less Risk of Tracheostomy4

It’s important to know your options when considering surgery for rib fixation. Zimmer Biomet provides the most comprehensive rib fixation solutions, including a minimally invasive solution called the RibFix Advantage System and RibFix Blu for more complex cases. To learn about these options, click here.

As with most surgery, comes risk, including but are not limited to, poor bone formation, infection, or fracture of the device.  For a complete list of risks associated with Zimmer Biomet’s rib fixation systems, click here.

  1. Mayo Broken Ribs
  3. Slobogean GP, MacPherson CA, Sun T, Pelletier ME, Hameed SM. Surgical fixation vs nonoperative management of flail chest: a meta-analysis. Journal of the American College of Surgeons. 2013;216(2):302- 311.e301.
  4. Liang YS, Yu KC, Wong CS, Kao Y, Tiong TY, Tam KW. Does Surgery Reduce the Risk of Complications Among Patients with Multiple Rib Fractures? A Meta- analysis. Clinical orthopaedics and related research. 2019;477(1):193-205
  5. Kasotakis G, Hasenboehler EA, Streib EW, et al. Operative fixation of rib fractures after blunt trauma: a practice management guideline from the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma. Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. 2017;82(3):618-626.
  6. Liu X, Xiong K. Surgical management versus non-surgical management of rib fractures in chest trauma:a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of cardiothoracic surgery. 2019;14(1):45.
  7. Coughlin TA, Ng JW, Rollins KE, Forward DP, Ollivere BJ. Management of rib fractures in traumatic flail chest: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. The bone & joint journal. 2016;98-b(8):1119-1125.
  8. Liang YS, Yu KC, Wong CS, Kao Y, Tiong TY, Tam KW. Does Surgery Reduce the Risk of Complications Among Patients with Multiple Rib Fractures? A Meta- analysis. Clinical orthopaedics and related research. 2019;477(1):193-205
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To find a doctor near you, click the ‘find-a-doc’ link. For printed information on joint replacement, call 1-800-447-5633.
Talk to your surgeon about whether joint replacement or another treatment is right for you and the risks of the procedure, including the risk of implant wear, loosening or failure, and pain, swelling and infection. Zimmer Biomet does not practice medicine; only a surgeon can answer your questions regarding your individual symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.