A rib fracture is a broken bone in the chest caused by blunt injuries such as car accidents or falls. Patients with rib fractures present with pain at the site of the injury along with bruising on the skin.
The diagnosis is often made with either a chest X-ray or CT scan of the chest. Imaging studies can also provide information about associated injuries such as pneumothorax, which is air in the chest cavity created by a rib puncturing the lung, or hemothorax, which is bleeding into the chest cavity. Both of these injuries are treated with a chest tube, which is a small tube placed into the chest cavity to remove air or blood.
Most acute rib fractures are treated with medication to manage pain, unless it is a severe multiple rib fracture that prevents adequate breathing. Patients with severe fractures that cause flail chest, in which there is opposite movement of the chest wall during normal breathing, may require rib fixation. In addition, we also recommend rib fixation for patients who have chronic pain at the site of the rib fracture, who experience a clicking sound when they breathe, and whose ribs are not aligned on a CT scan of the chest.
In our practice, we provide “open reduction and internal fixation of the rib with rib plate” for patients with severe acute fracture or chronic painful rib fracture. This can stabilize the ribs and significantly improve overall pain for patients.