Rib Injury: Treatment & Healing Time

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  • 0:04 Rib Injuries
  • 1:25 Treatment
  • 3:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tara Schickel

Tara has taught staff nursing courses and has a master's degree in public health.

This lesson will describe the length of time it takes for rib injuries to heal and the main goal of treatment while waiting for healing. We'll also explain the best treatment to foster healing and when one should seek emergency medical help.

Rib Injuries

Jim fell and sustained a fractured rib. He went to see his doctor, who sent him home to rest and heal from his injury. He told Jim that rib injuries usually have to heal naturally since it's pretty impossible to put a cast on a rib. Jim has been resting and trying to heal for four days and is starting to get restless. He decided to do some reading about rib injuries to find out how long he should expect to have to rest. He's hoping to find out some tips that will help him heal faster, too.

Jim is discouraged to find out that it usually takes three to six weeks to heal from a broken rib. If he had just bruised his rib, he would be healed in about three to four weeks. Just Jim's luck, his is broken. As Jim reads further, he realizes he should be thankful that the rib broke, and didn't end up with torn cartilage in the rib cage. Cartilage is a whitish, semi-flexible material that connects bones together in the body. Torn cartilage in the rib cage typically takes 12 weeks or longer to heal! That's a long time!

Jim continues to read because it's been bothering him that his broken rib didn't show on the chest x-ray. He's worried that maybe there's something else wrong. After all, something as painful as a broken rib would surely show up on x-ray, right? Jim is surprised to discover that broken ribs sometimes show up on x-ray, but not always.

Treatment

Jim reads that, although broken ribs have to heal naturally, the main goal of treatment is to provide pain relief during the natural healing process. He learns that the main reason for this is to allow the person with the fracture to be out of pain enough to breathe deeply and move around. Breathing deeply and moving around will keep him from developing pneumonia. This is the most important aspect of waiting for ribs to heal. Jim also puts the pieces of the puzzle together and realizes why his doctor told him not to bandage himself around the rib cage. Tight bandaging will restrict his ability to take a deep breath, further raising his chances of developing pneumonia. Jim definitely doesn't want that. So he decides he will do his best to breathe deeply and walk in between his rest times.

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