Rib Injury in Auto Accidents

A rib injury is generally defined as a bruise, strain or fracture of the bone, cartilage or muscles in the rib cage. Many rib injuries are the result of auto accidents, where the force of the impact pushes the vehicle occupant into their seat belt at great speed.

The result of this is that the rib area is compressed against the seat belt, which can result in a serious personal injury to the passenger or driver.

Common Causes Of A Rib Injury

Consisting on 24 curved bones, arranged into 12 pairs, the ribs are designed to protect many important internal organs of the human body - including the heart and lungs - they are often one of the first body parts that are injured in a serious accident.

Some common causes of rib injuries can include:

While most rib injuries are non life threatening, they can often be excruciating for the victim, forcing them to be unable to perform regular work duties or related tasks.

The Types Of Rib Injuries

Most rib injuries can be difficult to determine without the use of an x-ray or MRI scan. However, almost all rib injuries are generally divided into three main categories:

  • Soft Tissue Injuries - these injuries often include bruising (where blood vessels split and leak blood into the surrounding tissue area), intercostal strains which prevent the rib case from twisting and flexing, often producing much discomfort for the victim and lastly, costochondral separation which is an injury that involves the rib itself being torn from the costal cartilage that connects the rib cage to the sternum.

  • Rib Fracture - due to the curved design of the ribs, they are very resilient to breaking however, in extreme cases where significant force is pressed against the bone - which is more than the bone itself can resist - the result will be a rib fracture.

  • Flail Chest Injury - the most serious of all chest injuries, a Flail injury is when three or more ribs are broken in two or more separate places (generally at the front AND rear of the rob case). Due the forces necessary to break most rib bones, these types of injuries are often the result of SERIOUS blunt force, which often does additional internal and external damage to the victim.

In the event of any damage to a bone, muscle or cartilage, it’s always a good decision to consult a medical professional and have them assess the extent of the injuries.

Common Symptoms Of Damaged Ribs

In some instances, the effect of a rib injury will not surface until one to three days AFTER the damage has occurred. In fact, many rib injuries are often felt both at the front and rear of the torso area, prompting injury victims to believe that they may have kidney stones or in some cases, heart problems.

However, in most cases the common symptoms of a damaged rib will include:

  • pain when the rib case moves or flexes
  • discomfort at the location of the injury
  • feeling “crunchy” or a grinding sensation
  • feeling a bubbling sensation in the rib area
  • a “tight” feeling in the rib area
  • difficulty breathing

By remaining calm and keeping emotions stable, an injury victim is often able to manage the pain of a rib injury until medical attention arrives at the scene of the accident.

Treatment Options For Rib Injuries

Unfortunately for many rib injury victims, broken ribs cannot be put into a cast. Pain management is the primary objective for many physicians, as it simply takes time for the ribs to heal.

Some common treatment options also include:

  • ice treatment to reduce swelling and numb the affected area
  • bed rest
  • no lifting
  • prescription strength pain killers
  • anti-inflammatory drugs

In severe chest injury cases (Flail injury),  a mechanical breathing device may also be needed.