Possible causes of a rib fracture include direct impact to the chest and intense coughing, a symptom common in patients with osteoporosis, cancer or other conditions that weaken the bones, according to WebMD. Contact sports, motor vehicle accidents and child abuse are common direct impacts that lead to broken ribs, reports Mayo Clinic. Repetitive trauma from rowing, golf or other sports sometimes fractures the ribs.
Pain when breathing, moderate to intense pain in the affected region, and pain surrounding the rib fracture when pressing on the breastbone are symptoms of a rib fracture, states WebMD. Some patients with fractured ribs experience shortness of breath, dizziness, headaches or anxiousness.
In some cases, a hard impact not only breaks a rib but also harms the lungs, spleen or other body parts, notes WebMD. A punctured lung commonly accompanies a fractured rib. Breakage in three or more ribs leads to flail chest, in which the injured area changes shape when a patient inhales. Flail chest causes breathing difficulty, as muscles have to work harder and the chest has less space for the lungs to accommodate air.
A fractured rib generally heals after six weeks with home treatment, according to WebMD. Pain management involves applying ice on the affected area, resting properly and taking pain medications. Doctors sometimes recommend stronger pain medications if nonprescription drugs do not relieve pain.