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What is a stress fracture of the ribs?



A stress fracture of a rib is an incomplete fracture or crack within one of the rib bones. Physiotherapy is important following a stress fracture of the ribs.


How do stress fractures of the ribs happen?



When stress is put on a rib, areas of the bone are damaged. The bone then repairs itself by resorbing the damaged areas of bone and forming new bone in place of the damaged areas. If the formation of new bone cannot keep up with old bone resorption, weak areas can develop within the rib at places where it is put under stress. A weak area can develop into a stress fracture if the rib is continually stressed. This injury is common in rowers where the muscles used to row originate from the ribs. The force on the ribs generated by these muscles can overstress the weak areas in the bone, leading to a stress fracture.


What are the symptoms of stress fractures of the ribs?



People with a stress fracture of a rib commonly complain of increasing chest pain that has developed over a period of weeks. The pain is usually localised over the site of the stress fracture and is worsened by exercise. At first the pain may have only been present after activity. By the time they present in clinic the pain has often become severe and activities, such as rowing, are too painful to perform. By this stage the rib is often sore during breathing and coughing. The painful area may also be tender, red and warm to touch.

Other symptoms could include:

What should I do if I have a stress fracture of a rib?



If you have or suspect you have a stress fracture of a rib, you should arrange an assessment with a physiotherapist.


Physiotherapy treatment for a stress fractures of a rib.



The assistance of a physiotherapist is important in the treatment of a stress fracture of a rib. Initially, they can diagnose your injury. This may require referral for a number of imaging techniques such as a bone scan, CT scan or MRI. From this, your physiotherapist will able to provide you with an estimation of how long the injury is expected to take to heal and devise an appropriate treatment plan. This may involve a period of rest or activity modification, the use of anti-inflammatory medications and electrotherapy treatment. Electrotherapy can help you with the management of your pain and also promote the healing of your rib.

Additional treatments may include:

What shouldn’t I do if I have a stress fracture of a rib?



If you have or suspect you have a stress fracture of a rib, you should not continue to exercise or compete in sports. If you continue to exercise or compete, the area of breakdown has the potential to increase and potentially cause a complete rib fracture.


Could there be any long-term effects of a stress fracture of a rib?



A stress fracture of a rib does not cause any long-term effects, if it is treated properly. Recovery normally occurs in a number of weeks.

To arrange a physiotherapy assessment call Physio.co.uk on 0330 088 7800 or book online.


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