A cracked rib causes mild-to-severe pain that increases when a person breathes or feels pressure against the breastbone, WebMD states. When the injury affects the lungs or multiple fractures restrict the rib cage’s movement, individuals may suffer from shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, tiredness or anxiety.
A traumatic blow to the chest, such as impact from a motor vehicle accident or fall, is the most common cause of cracked ribs, according to Mayo Clinic. People involved in contact sports, such as football, have a greater risk of suffering repetitive chest trauma, making them more vulnerable to fractures. Existing health complications that weaken the structural integrity of bone, such as osteoporosis or cancerous lesions, reduce the ribs' resistance to breakage. While serious, cracked ribs pose less dangerous than complete breakage that leaves sharp, splintered edges of bone, which can puncture nearby vessels or organs.
Doctors use a physical exam to listen for signs of strained breathing and to observe any restricted movement or pain sensitivity around the affected ribs, Mayo Clinic explains. Diagnostic imaging tests, such as bone scans, CT scans and MRI scans, help physicians locate the injury site, especially when cracks are too subtle to detect with X-rays. Most cracks heal naturally within six weeks, and the patient uses medication as needed to manage the pain.