Most rib fractures are minor injuries, but they're also extremely painful. The basic treatment of one involves managing the pain and monitoring for more serious injuries. Of course, you should also get to a doctor as soon as possible.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- 1- 2-inch adhesive tape
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
You might be dealing with a simple fractured rib if any of the following symptoms are present: Sharp pain at a particular point on the chest that's touched, sharp pain when coughing or breathing, bruising or deformity of the chest.
Cut 4 or 5 strips of 1- or 2-inch adhesive tape. Make sure the strips are long enough to stretch from the injured person's sternum (the midsection of the rib cage where the ribs meet) to the spine.
Place a strip of tape directly over the fractured rib, running from the sternum and wrapping around the back to the spine. Don't place the adhesive tape around the entire chest--this will restrict breathing.
Place the 3 or 4 additional pieces of tape on either side of the broken rib, running parallel to one another. This tape should help decrease pain by restricting the movement of the fractured area.
Improvise a splint if you don't have adhesive tape--whatever it takes to minimize movement without restricting breathing. Some options are to fill a stuff sack with some clothes and tie it to the chest using bandannas. Have the injured person hold one hand against the fractured site. Then put the arm on the injured side into a sling and secure the arm against the fractured site using a bandanna or triangular bandage tied around the chest.
Give the injured person ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen sodium for pain.
Encourage the injured person to cough frequently. It's going to hurt, but it will prevent secretions from pooling in the lung, which could cause pneumonia.
Look for the signs of serious fractures that may involve injury to the lungs: Rapid and shallow breathing, elevated heart rate, increased difficulty breathing, coughing up blood.
Place 1 hand on each side of the injured person's chest and observe the way in which the chest moves with each breath. If one side of the chest rises during inhalation while the other falls, at least 3 ribs have been broken on the falling side of the chest. This is called a "chest flail."
Roll the person onto their injured side if there is severe difficulty in breathing or if the chest is rising and falling asymmetrically.
Place a rolled piece of clothing underneath the fractured area to support it. This will help control the pain with breathing.
Fill a plastic bag with sand or dirt and hold this against the side of the fractured rib if this side is rising and falling asymmetrically during inhalations.
Tape a large pad of gauze across the weighted bag, bringing the tape from one side of the chest to the other. Do not tape across the back.
Keep the person on his or her side and continually monitor for difficulties breathing. You may need to roll the person over and provide CPR if the person ceases to breathe.
Go to the hospital immediately for even the simplest of rib fractures. The injured person must be flown or carried out if there are any signs of respiratory distress, but they'll be able to walk out with simple fractures.
Continually monitor the injured person's breathing. You may need to make adjustments to the bandage or splint devise if it begins to restrict breathing.
Tips and warnings
- Do not administer narcotics, such as codeine for pain. These may interfere with the injured person's ability to breathe.
- Never wrap an adhesive bandage around the entire chest. This will restrict breathing. Only an elastic bandage should be used to tape the entire chest.
- Be especially careful about taping the chest at elevations over 10,000 feet where breathing is more difficult. Use a sling or a padded stuff sack to restrict movement whenever possible.
- This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment.