Ribs are bones that form the framework of the chest. They make a cage to protect the heart,
lungs and other organs. There are twelve pairs of ribs. Each is joined at the back to your spine.
The front ends of the ribs are linked to the sternum by cartilage. This is tough, thick, and elastic.
Your ribs need to be in one piece to be able to breathe normally.
Simple rib fractures are rarely life threatening; however, these breaks can be a clue to more
severe internal damage. It is common to feel ribs moving after being broke.
Pain from rib fractures makes it hard to breathe. This may result in a collapsed lung or
Multiple rib fractures affect muscle movement which makes breathing hard to do. Your lungs
are not as able to exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen. The tissues in your body need oxygen to
work normally. Fragments of broken ribs can also go through your lungs and form blood around
the lung (hemothorax) or air that leaks around the lung (pneumothorax).
ABG (arterial blood gas) measurements can help show if the lungs are able to get enough
oxygen to the body.
Pulse Oximeter (pulse ox): A plastic clip or sticker placed on your finger or toe that tells us
your oxygen level.
Chest X-rays & CT Scans are useful for finding rib fractures and other injuries.
Rib fractures can be very painful, but the pain gets better with time. Pain medicine will not
take this pain fully away. You may have more pain when breathing deeply and coughing.
The main treatment for rib fractures is pain relief and clearing lung secretions to prevent
pneumonia. There is no brace to help rib fractures heal.
It is vital that you use your incentive spirometer or PEP (Positive Expiratory Pressure)
therapy. It helps to allow you to take deep breaths. You will be asked to cough and deep
breathe, even though it hurts.
Extra oxygen can be given though your nose or by a face mask if needed.
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#6894