Types of Rib Injuries

Instructor: Tara Schickel

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

This article will describe the common types of rib injuries, including fractures, and soft tissue injuries. The specific types of fractures will be discussed, as well as the most serious form of rib fracture, the flail chest.

Types of Rib Injuries

Jack has recently begun playing golf. He got into his car after an invigorating 18-hole game and noticed a lot of soreness in his chest. He has never had heart problems, but knew that chest pain could indicate a heart attack, so he promptly called 9-1-1 and was transported to the emergency room. After a cardiac work-up, Jack was diagnosed with strained muscles in his chest. Relieved by this, he went home and called a golf buddy to inform him that it must be due to his new hobby. His friend told him that vigorous activities that require a lot of twisting can sometimes strain the muscles and advised Jack to read about the different types of rib injuries.

Rib Fractures

Jack went home and started reading. He learned that ribs are bones, so they do have the potential to be fractured, or broken. Usually, if a rib is fractured, the break occurs at the outer curve, since this is the rib's weakest point.

Types of Rib Fractures

Jack learned that there are two main types of rib fractures:

  • Simple
  • Serious

A simple rib fracture is a break in the rib that is not severe enough to cause significant respiratory distress. Patients who have simple rib fractures usually present with sharp pain and soreness at the injury location, they are unable to breathe deeply or cough due to the pain, their respiratory rate increases, and they breathe very shallow.

A serious rib fracture is one that causes significant respiratory distress and impairs breathing. This is a severe, dangerous injury. Patients with serious rib fractures presents with respiratory distress. They may begin to have a bluish tint to the skin from lack of oxygen. Their heart rate increases, as well as their respiratory rate. They may have a serious enough fracture that it could be classified as flail chest.

Flail Chest

Flail chest is an extremely serious and severe type of rib fracture. The term flail chest comes from the breathing movement in this type of injury. The rib cage sinks in during inspiration, as opposed to expanding as a normal chest would during inspiration. The severity of injury that leads to flail chest is typically at least three ribs that are broken in the front and back. Blunt force trauma is the typical cause of rib fractures.

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