A rib fracture is a crack or break in one of the bones of the rib cage. Sometimes the breakage is in the cartilaginous part of the rib and not the bone itself. Mr Scarci regularly sees patients who have intact bones but are still in considerable pain.
The most common cause of a fractured rib is a trauma to the chest. Occasionally, especially in patients with osteoporosis or cancer, rib fractures can occur on coughing.
Rib fractures are usually very painful and can occasionally pierce the lung. This is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. Patients can feel short of breath or dizzy with a rib fracture.
Rib fractures are usually diagnosed on physical examination and chest X-rays. However, as they do not always show up on X-rays, you may be treated as though you have a fractured rib even if an X-ray does not show any broken bones.
Quite often a CT scan is also necessary to assess the extent of any potential injuries to internal organs.
Most fractured ribs are treated at home and will heal on their own over time. This usually requires at least six weeks and to help manage the pain while the fracture heals you will be prescribed strong painkillers.
While you are healing, it is important to cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once an hour. This can help prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of the lung tissue.
Because ribs cannot be fixed in a cast, sometimes the fractures do not heal properly. This relatively common condition is called malunion and can be very painful, even several years after the initial trauma. Mr Scarci treats many patients with long-term chest wall pain caused by non-healed ribs.
When there is more than one rib fracture you can have a condition called flail chest. This is very painful and can severely impair breathing. A novel technique for repair of these fractures uses titanium plates.