Rib fractures are the most common type of chest injury. They are caused by blunt or open trauma to the chest. Rib fractures often result from motor vehicle accidents, crush injuries, and recreational or athletic injuries. Uncomplicated rib fractures with no associated injuries are treated symptomatically on an outpatient basis. This includes medications to decrease pain, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents, analgesics, and narcotics. Suppression of a cough, if present, will decrease pain. Ice may be placed over the tender area to decrease swelling. Support from a rib belt, binder, or corset helps to decrease pain, but individuals who use these devices cannot breathe deeply. This leads to higher risk of pneumonia or partial lung collapse therefore, their use is seldom recommended. An intercostal nerve block may be an option for severe pain. Rest and do not do physical activity until the pain has gone away. As your ribs heal, a physical therapist can teach you breathing exercises and can also help you maintain range of motion in arm and shoulder joints. An incentive spirometer often is utilized in the breathing program. It is a device that measures the depths of your breaths when you breathe through a small connecting hose on the plastic portable device. There are few exercises you can perform that will speed up recovery from damaged ribs. It typically takes about six weeks for damaged ribs to repair themselves. The best you can hope for sometimes is to find ways to minimize the pain while you recover. Transcutaneous nerve stimulation units, also called TENS, may be used as part of a rehabilitative physical therapy program to regulate your pain. Electrodes are place over the affected area and painless shots of electricity are transferred through your skin. Medication is prescribed to mitigate the pain of broken and cracked ribs, but other measures may relieve the pressure. Gentle stretching that expands your diaphragm can help when you take deep breaths. Stretching that targets the shoulders and trunk expand your chest cavity to make breathing more comfortable.
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