Rib Fracture Healing Time

A fractured rib refers to a break in one of the bones of the rib cage, or the break in the cartilage that forms the rib cage. Direct blow to the ribs, such as that resulting from a fall or car accident, is the most common reason for rib fractures. Another less common cause of rib fractures is violent coughing, and such fractures often result from other underlying diseases like osteoporosis or cancer, which reduce the strength of the ribs.

Rib Fracture Healing Time

Rib fractures may take 6 weeks to 6 months to heal. Depending on the health status of the patient, the healing time varies from one patient to another. Factors that affect the healing time include:

  • Age: In young patients, rib fractures heal much faster as compared to older patients.
  • Nutrition: Adequate nutrition helps the rib fractures heal more quickly. Enough protein and carbohydrates are necessary.
  • Comorbid diseases: Diseases like diabetes that lower the immunity may prolong the healing of rib fractures.
  • Hormones: Certain hormones like thyroid hormones and growth hormone boost the healing process whereas others, like steroid hormones, hinder it.

Ways to Shorten Your Rib Fracture Healing Time

Although the healing of rib fractures is quite slow, certain therapeutic measures can help enhance healing. During the entire period of recovery, taking enough rest, and avoiding sudden movements that may cause the ribs to displace or break again, are extremely important. Other measures that can help speed up the healing process are listed below.

1.      Use Ice Packs

Application of ice packs to the site of rib fracture for at least 20 minutes every hour is one of the best way to deal with a rib fracture, which can help relieve the pain and swelling. That is because low temperature can cause the blood vessels to narrow, which will improve the inflammation. Besides, the pain nerve endings are inhibited by cold, which can alleviate the pain. Cover the ice pack with a thin cloth before applying it so as to avoid the complications of frostbite. 

2.      Use Over-The-Counter Analgesics 

The commonly available over-the-counter pain medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin. These help lessen the pain and inflammation caused by a rib fracture. NSAIDs can keep you comfortable and help you return to the daily activities quickly. However, excessive use of NSAIDs should be avoided as they are associated with certain side effects like stomach and kidney problems. Kids should not be given aspirin as it can lead to Reye’s syndrome. 

3.      Avoid Sudden Movements

Sudden and extreme movements of the body, like bending over or sideways, should be avoided for the first few weeks after injury since it can slow down the healing process. Similarly, strenuous household activities and exercises should be avoided. Besides, you should keep yourself from lifting heavy objects. Holding a pillow against the chest while coughing and sneezing can help reduce the pain. 

4.      Adjust the Way You Sleep

Your sleeping position has a profound effect on healing. Sleeping in a prone position and sideways will put excessive strain on the ribs, which will slow down the healing process. The best way is to sleep upright in a supine position with your back supported against pillows.

5.      Watch for Your Diet

Your body needs adequate nutrition in order to recover from the injury. If you want to speed up rib fracture healing time, eat plenty of vegetables and fresh fruits to provide your body with the nutrients and minerals that are essential for healing. Whole grains, meats, dairy products are beneficial for you. Taking extra supplements of calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and multivitamins can not only speed up the healing, but also can strengthen the bones. Foods which can interfere with the healing process, such as fast foods, sodas, refined carbohydrates and alcohol, should be avoided. 

6.      Healing Exercises

After consulting with your doctor, you can engage in low-impact exercises as they help reduce the rib fracture healing time. The following exercises are helpful.

  • Breathing exercise

During the first few days after injury, the chances of lung collapse are quite high. Breathing exercises can help prevent lung collapse. The exercise consists of inhaling slowly and deeply, and then gradual exhaling, and do this for 2-3 minutes. Afterwards, cough gently a few times and then do the breathing exercise again. Holding a pillow to the rib cage can reduce pain during the breathing exercise.

  • Cardiovascular exercise

Cardiovascular exercises help improve the breathing rate, which in turn will speed up the healing process of a rib fracture. Walking your dog and cycling are gentle cardiovascular exercises, and these can be gradually increased in intensity according to the level of tolerance.

  • Stretching

Stretching workouts like yoga and Pilates help prevent muscle stiffness caused by a rib fracture. Go for exercises that don’t cause undue pressure on the chest. For chest stretches that can relieve pain, bend you elbows at 90 degrees angle and extend them backwards. If this exercise causes backache, arch your back with your hands and feet on the floor for about 20 seconds, and then push your back down.

  • Weight training

Weight training exercises help strengthen the bones for preventing fractures in future. Try low-intensity weight-bearing exercises like squats, lunges, biceps curls which will not put too much pressure on the chest. Make sure to start slowly.

When to See a Doctor

If you are not sure whether or not you have a rib fracture, consult the doctor at once to confirm the diagnosis. A rib fracture manifests itself as: 

  • Chest lump
  • Open chest wound through which the bone shows
  • Chest pain when breathing or touching
  • The change in shape of your chest

See the doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Excruciating chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Fever with chills
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Light headedness
  • Painful, swollen, red or warm extremities 
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