Can Physical Therapy Help Broken or Injured Ribs?
Broken Ribs Pain Management
According to the recent estimates, as many as 300,000 people get their bones fractured every year in the United States. One can encounter a broken rib due to a number of reasons like:
- Car accidents
- Falling on objects
- Contact sports
Besides these, the frailer population can get rib fractures due to:
- Prolonged or intense coughing
Now, coming to the significance of ribs in our body, we know that ribs are important to give protection to our chest cavity. They prevent injury and trauma to our sensitive internal organs. If your ribs get injured or broken, not only will the pain will be severe, but it also will be crippling.
Although painful, only rarely do doctors prescribe surgery for rib injuries. Instead, other things like time, rest, and physical therapy are found to be helpful in healing.
So, what can you do if you have got your ribs fractured or injured?
Let’s see in detail here:
How Can You Say Your Ribs are Broken?
We can say the ribs are broken through a few symptoms. The first major symptom will be the pain while breathing. This will make you breathe by taking shallow breaths. As this is not conducive to appropriate respiration, deep breathing will be the first line of treatment. However, remember that shallow breaths can have various complications, such as:
- Collapsed lungs
- Feeling faint
On the other hand, if you also hear a grating sound with breathing or motion, it’s time to seek medical attention. It’s because there could be a potentially fatal condition, in which a part of the chest wall will move separately from the remaining part of the chest and lungs. This is something that can happen if you have multiple breaks in the adjacent ribs.
Apart from these major symptoms, you can also feel pain with movements, such as:
- Lying on something
- Bending over maneuvers
What’s Involved in the Treatment?
According to medical experts, most often, people who suffer from a broken rib will actually have a cracked rib. As such, the cracked ribs are not as dangerous as broken ribs.
Also, when it comes to treating broken ribs, they won’t be set in a cast like it’s done for an arm or leg break. Instead, they are left to heal on their own. It can take up to 6 weeks if you suffer a fracture and 12 weeks or more if your rib has been torn from your cartilage.
During this time, your doctors will advise you to wear a broken rib brace as it will help support the ribcage and restore its alignment when at the same time preventing any further injuries. In addition, the broken rib braces can help ensure an optimal blood supply to the injured area and help reduce inflammation. Thus, they will facilitate your ribs to heal faster.
Let’s take a look at the other important parts of a broken rib treatment:
As mentioned earlier, shallow breaths in a patient with a broken rib need to be treated as they can lead to severe complications. Thus, the patients are encouraged to practice deep breathing. Often, an incentive spirometer will be utilized in this. It is a device that will help measure the depths of your breaths as you breathe via a small connecting hose on a plastic apparatus.
Doctors will typically prescribe OTC pain medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. If the pain is very severe, he/she will prescribe some stronger pain medications or injections for long-lasting pain relief.
For Preventing Further Trauma:
Based upon your job and the severity of your injury, you may have to take time off work. To prevent further trauma, in addition to using a broken rib brace, you can also use ice packs to help reduce the inflammation in the early stage itself.
While all these treatments can help mitigate the pain of your broken or injured ribs, there are also some other measures to help relieve the pressure. An important part in this is played by the physical therapy. Let’s see about this in detail below:
Physical Therapy for a Broken Rib:
Physical therapy for a broken rib involves two phases:
Initial Phase (Immediately after diagnosis):
As soon as you identified that you have got your ribs injured or broken, it’s essential that you rest your ribs and alter your activity levels so that no undue stress is placed on the ribs. It’s because stress can lead to re-fracture or even non-union of the bones. In the case where a rib fracture is high, you may have to keep your arm in a sling in order to prevent strain and ribcage pulling.
Latent Phase (After the pain is reduced and bone has re-healed):
You must make sure that you go back to activities slowly for soft tissues and bony tissues to adapt to the strains of the sports you like. At this stage, we would advise you to concentrate on strengthening the support muscles of your arm and torso as these will help avoid any further strain on the rib bone that is newly-healed.
- Bicep strengthening exercises like bicep curls will be helpful in taking some weight, as well as the pressure of the ribs while performing activities, such as throwing and swinging a racket.
- Core exercises will help strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, which in turn will help strengthen your torso.
- Gentle stretching to your shoulders and trunk will help expand the chest cavity and can make your breathing and moving around easier. This can also help alleviate pain that is caused by the rib fracture or pain due to wearing the arm sling.
In the frail and elderly patients, physical therapy will help patients walk and move around with a rib fracture. Your physical therapist will train your patient to shift between beds and chairs safely when at the same time taking care not to make the pain worse. In addition, physical therapy can also help with co-morbidities, such as osteoporosis and diabetes. For these people, strengthening and balancing exercises will be prescribed so as to prevent re-injury.
Your physical therapist may also choose to do “TENS electric stimulation” to help modulate your pain without narcotics. Talk to your doctor and get to know which treatment will work best for you.