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How to Treat a Cracked Rib

Rib fractures are a very common part of accidents, which need immediate and effective first aid. Find out how to treat a cracked rib, for relief after an accident.
You must have seen a human rib cage on a skeleton hanging in a biology lab in schools, colleges or at a doctor's clinic! Also called the thoracic cage, it is a cage like structure made of bones and cartilages that surrounds the chest or thoracic cavity. It also supports the shoulder girdle and forms the core part of the human skeleton. The typical rib cage present in humans consists of the following parts, viz; 24 ribs (12 on each side, left and right), the 12 thoracic vertebrae at the back, the sternum, and the costal cartilages.

There are fascia and muscles which provide the attachment of the rib cage to the neck, thorax, abdomen and the back, all of which support the organs present inside and around the cage. Now, with such a complicated built held in a person's chest area, one wouldn't think there are chances of damage to the rib cage at all. But when people meet with sever force accidents, the impact is great and it damages not only the muscles that protect it, but also break the bones of the cage. Therefore, when there is a possibility of a cracked or broken rib, first aid is very essential. Here's how to treat a cracked rib to avoid further damages.

Treating a Cracked Rib

A cracked rib is also known as a rib fracture, where either one or more bones of the rib cage are broken/cracked due to injury. There are three main divisions in the rib cage; the first rib, middle ribs and lower rib, out of which the middle ones are more prone to fracture. The rib cage is an important part of the respiratory system, as it holds the lungs and many other crucial organs for respiration. Therefore, when a rib is cracked, there could be risks to these organs as well, making treatment the main criteria.

Treating the Pain
The first reaction to a cracked rib is immense pain, and because the fracture is in the chest area the patient can find it extremely difficult to breathe or move. Thus, taking painkillers such as Ibuprofen or Motrin, and some anti-inflammatory drugs on a doctor's prescription, could reduce the pain for time being. The treatment could help in reducing the pain and swelling of the chest and surrounding areas. When there are more than 2 rib fractures, doctors prescribe stronger painkillers so that the pain is reduced considerably.

Treating with Extremes
You may use either a hot water bag or an icepack to reduce the pain temporarily. Using either of the two can prove comforting in case of acute pain, but for chronic pain relief, stronger medications need to be used on the doctor's prescription. However, this treatment should be done only for 15 minutes every hour during the first 1 or 2 days. These treatments could be followed after the surgery, as sometimes, cracked ribs have to be corrected manually.

Using Medical Adhesive Tape
A cracked rib is the loose point in the rib cage due to which the entire structure can be damaged, if not treated in time. After the patient is given painkillers to reduce the swelling and the pain, use about 2 to 3 inches of adhesive medical tape to bandage the entire chest area. Since you can't plaster the area, using adhesive tape is very beneficial. Place the tape on the injured rib section and run it along the rib to the center of the back, but don't wrap it all over the body as that will create breathing problems. Bandaging the fractured rib will stabilize the wound and prevent it from moving (creating friction), which is more painful.

For extremely painful condition, you need to consult the doctor. It is advised by doctors to prevent infections such as pneumonia. Therefore, make sure you take care of yourself and follow the instructions of the doctor religiously.
By Aparna Jadhav
Published: 5/3/2011
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