Dislocated Ribs: Symptoms & Treatment

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  • 0:03 What Are Dislocated Ribs?
  • 1:21 Dislocated Ribs: Symptoms
  • 1:54 Dislocated Ribs: Treatments
  • 2:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dan Washmuth

Dan has taught college Nutrition, Anatomy, Physiology, and Sports Nutrition courses and has a master's degree in Dietetics & Nutrition.

A dislocated rib is a painful injury where one or more of the ribs are moved from their normal location. In this lesson, learn about the symptoms and treatment for dislocated ribs.

What Are Dislocated Ribs?

Nancy is a 54-year-old nurse who was driving home after working a long, 12-hour shift at the hospital. As she was pulling out of the hospital's parking garage, a large pick-up truck ran into her driver's side door. Luckily, Nancy was wearing her seat belt. However, the impact of the accident caused her chest to hit her steering wheel very hard.

The driver of the pick-up truck immediately got out of his car to check on Nancy. He repeatedly said he was sorry and kept asking Nancy if she was okay. Nancy told him that she thought she was okay but had a lot of pain on the left side of her lower chest that got worse anytime she breathed. Since they were so close to the hospital, an ambulance showed up immediately, and the paramedics quickly evaluated Nancy and brought her to the emergency room.

The doctors in the emergency room took X-rays of Nancy's side and chest area. After looking at the X-rays, one of the doctors informed Nancy that she had dislocated two of her ribs, but luckily, she had no other serious injuries.

A dislocated rib is a painful injury where one or more of the ribs are moved from their normal location in the chest cavity. The ribs are a collection of 24 (12 pairs) long, curved-shaped bones that form the rib cage and function to protect the lungs and other organs of the chest cavity.

Dislocated Ribs: Symptoms

The main symptom of dislocated ribs is pain in the chest or back area, wherever the dislocation occurred. This pain is often a very intense, sharp pain that usually increases when a person breathes, because breathing causes the rib cage to expand and collapse. Additionally, the pain usually becomes excruciating when the person coughs or sneezes. Other symptoms include:

  • Hearing a loud popping sound at the moment the rib becomes dislocated
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
  • Bruising, and/or swelling

Dislocated Ribs: Treatments

Treatment for a dislocated rib often includes a medical professional manually putting the rib back into place; a process called a closed reduction. Sometimes, the dislocated rib will heal on its own without any treatment. This usually takes about 6 weeks. During the healing process, it's often recommended to ice the injured area and take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen in order to control the pain. If the pain persists with the ice and over-the-counter pain relievers, a doctor will likely prescribe stronger pain medication.

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