Rib fracture

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Rib fracture
ICD-10 S42.2-S42.4
ICD-9 812
eMedicine emerg/199  orthoped/271 orthoped/199

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Mohammadmain Rezazadehsaatlou[2].

Synonyms and Keywords:


The Rib bone are known as the main structural part of the thoracic cage. Rib bone are protecting the thoracic organs such Heart, Lungs, etc, additionally, the Rib bone helps the respiration process.

Historical Perspective

There are no reliable information regarding the historical perspective of the Rib bone fracture :


The main etiology of the Rib fracture is thought to be due to the any type of energy directly to the thoracic cavity or any energetic force affecting human body around the thoracic cavity such as falling, road figthing, car accident or any type of trauma can affect this area and may lead to the bone and/or cartilage injuries of the thorax. Meanwhile, the Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) could leads to the thoracic injury with/without rib and/or sternum fractures. On the other hand, diseases such as cancer or rheumatoid arthritis could cause the Rib fracture

The main cause of Rib fracture is trauma. Such as the most fractures the Rib fracture is caused by a falling or automobile accident. Meanwhile, the normal healthy bones are extremely tough and resilient and can withstand most powerful impacts. As a person age, two factors cause higher risk of fractures :

  • Weaker bones
  • Greater risk of falling

Stress fractures as a common causes of fractures can be found due to the repeated stresses and strains. Importantly children having more physically active lifestyles than adults, are also prone to fractures. People with any underlying diseases such as osteoporosis, infection, or a tumor affecting their bones having a higher risk of fractures. As mentioned in previous chapters, this type of fracture is known as a pathological fracture. Stress fractures, which result from repeated stresses and strains, commonly found among professional sports people, are also common causes of fractures.

Life-threatening Causes

Common Causes

Common causes of Rib fracture may include:

Less Common Causes

Less common causes of Rib fracture include conditions that predisposes to fracture:

Causes by Organ System

Cardiovascular No underlying causes
Chemical/Poisoning No underlying causes
Dental No underlying causes
Dermatologic No underlying causes
Drug Side Effect No underlying causes
Ear Nose Throat No underlying causes
Endocrine No underlying causes
Environmental No underlying causes
Gastroenterologic No underlying causes
Genetic No underlying causes
Hematologic No underlying causes
Iatrogenic No underlying causes
Infectious Disease No underlying causes
Musculoskeletal/Orthopedic Osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Neurologic No underlying causes
Nutritional/Metabolic Osteoporosis and osteopenia.
Obstetric/Gynecologic No underlying causes
Oncologic No underlying causes
Ophthalmologic No underlying causes
Overdose/Toxicity No underlying causes
Psychiatric No underlying causes
Pulmonary No underlying causes
Renal/Electrolyte No underlying causes
Rheumatology/Immunology/Allergy No underlying causes
Sexual No underlying causes
Trauma Falling or car accident
Urologic No underlying causes
Miscellaneous No underlying causes

Causes in Alphabetical Order

List the causes of the disease in alphabetical order:


The main etiology of the Rib fracture is thought to thee excessive high-energy axial load to patients heel moving the the talus downward onto the Rib bone and causing the injury.

inversion stress to the ankle joint. The ankle is more stable and resistant to eversion injuries than inversion injuries Because: The medial malleolus is shorter than the lateral malleolus causing higher range of the invertion than evertion of the talus bone. The deltoid ligament stabilized the medial wall of the ankle joint

On the other hand, the transverse malleolar, Vertical malleolar, and posterior malleolar fractures are associated with an avulsion injury, talar impaction, and other bone and/or ligamentous injury, respectively.


In 80% of ankle fractures the foot is in supination position while, in 20% of fractures the foot is in pronation position. The Rib bone fracture is caused by a falling or direct trauma to the ankle joint. The form and severity of this fracture depends on the position of the ankle joint at the moment of the trauma. The ankle joint is flexible but the medial side of the ankle joint is rigid because the medial malleolus is attached to the tibia and also the medial collateral ligaments are very strong. Also, lateral wall of the ankle include: the fibula, syndesmosis and lateral collateral ligaments play important rolls in this flexibility. This lateral wall of the ankle allows the talus to move in lateral and dorsal sides easily. The fibula has no weight-bearing roll but it provide a flexible lateral support. The syndesmosis is formed by the anterior and posterior tibiofibular ligaments which is the fibrous connection between the fibula and tibia.

If we imagine the ankle as a ring in which bones and ligaments play an important role in the maintaining the stability of this joint. Meanwhile, if this ring is broken in one place it remains stable but when it is broken in two places, the ring is unstable and it is at the higher risk of fracture. Consequently the ankle is unstable when both the medial and the lateral malleoli are fractured.


Its known that the Rib bone fracture in normal healthy adults can be caused due to the high-energy trauma (e.g., motor vehicle accidents), sport related injuries, falling from height. But it should be noted that the most important Risk factors for insufficiency fractures is chronic metabolic disease such as steoporosis, osteopenia, eating-disordered behavior, higher age, prolonged corticosteroid usage, female gender, lower BMI, history of a recent falling, and prior fracture.

  • The pattern of bone fracture and severity of injury depends on variety of factors such as:
    • Patients age
    • Patients Weight
    • Patients past medical history specifically any bone diseases affecting the quality of bone (such as osteoporosis, malignancies)
    • Energy of trauma
    • Bone quality
    • Position of the specific organ during the trauma
  • The below-mentioned processes cause decreased bone mass density:

Differentiating Rib bone fracture from other Diseases

In the orthopedic medicine its important to know that the ankle fracture should be evaluated using radiography for both confirming diagnosis and also for evaluating the surrounding tissues.

  • Acute compartment syndrome of ankle joint
  • Ankle Dislocation
  • Soft tissue Injury around the ankle ,
  • Deep Venous thrombosis
  • Thrombophlebitis
  • Foot Fracture
  • Gout
  • Pseudogout
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Tibia Fracture
  • Fibula Fracture
  • bimalleolar fracture
  • trimalleolar fracture
  • triplane fracture
  • Tillaux fracture
  • Bosworth fracture
  • pilon fracture
  • Wagstaffe-Le Forte fracture
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease: in cases with repeated ankle fractures

Epidemiology and Demographics

  • The Rib bone fracture accounts for 2% of all fractures and also is known as the most most frequent tarsal fracture (60% of all tarsal fractures) and including the 17% of open fractures

Risk Factors

There are different risk factors that presidpose patient for the Rib bone fracture that include:

  • High-risk contact sports
  • Higher age (elderly adults are higher prone to such fractures)
  • Reduced bone density (osteoporosis)
  • Direct blow
  • Road / traffic accidents
  • Falling
  • Direct trauma to the ankle
  • Taking part in any rough or high-impact sport
  • Street fights, gunshot wounds, and domestic violence, may also cause the Ankle fracture
  • Road traffic accidents.



Osteoporosis is an important risk factor for human affecting human bone especially in men with the age of older than 50 years old and postmenopausal and women.

Based on the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) there are three groups of patients need to be screened for the osteoporosis:

  • ·       Men with no history of osteoporosis
  • ·       Women with the age of 65≤ year old, with no previous history of pathological fracture due to the osteoporosis
  • ·       Women with the age of <65 years, with 10-year fracture risk of not less than a 65-year-old white woman (who has not any other risk factor)

Accordingly women older than age of 50 are the main target for the osteoporosis screening. There is no specific recommendation to screen men for the osteoporosis.

The USPSTF recommendations from 2002 included:

Meanwhile, there are two major modalities for the osteoporosis screening:

  1. ·       Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) of the hip and lumbar spine bones
  2. ·       Quantitative ultrasonography of the Rib

*It should be noted of the two above mentioned modalities for screening the ultrasonograhy is preferred to the DXA due to its lower cost, lower ionizing radiation, more availability.

After the primary evaluation of the osteoporosis, the further evaluation are required in some cases such as:

·       Women with normal bone density or mild osteopenia: T-score of greater than −1.50 – should have screening for 15 years.

·       Women with moderate osteopenia: T-score of −1.50 to −1.99 – should have screening for 5 years.

·       Women with advanced osteopenia: T-score of −2.00 to −2.49 - should have screening for 1 year.

Natural History, Complications and Prognosis

Natural History

In cases with untreated Rib bone fracture the malunion and deformity of arm can be occurred.


The overall complication rate in the treatment of Rib bone fracture were found in around 40% of cases:

  1. Neurovascular compromise: such as Ulna nerve damage
  2. Compartment syndrome
  3. Chronic disability of the DRUJ
  4. Physeal Injury
  5. Malunion of the radius
  6. Nonunion
  7. Infection
  8. Refracture following plate removal
  9. Neural injury
  10. Instability of the DRUJ
  11. Loss of Motion (Stiffness)
  12. Posttraumatic Arthritis
  13. Heterotopic Ossification


Successful treatment of Rib bone fracture depends on the on-time interventions such as: accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment and referral. Complex open fractures with soft-tissue injuries have a worse prognosis than isolated closed Rib bone fracture.


The diagnosis of a Rib bone fracture should be confirmed using a radiographic examination.

History and Symptoms

The related signs and symptoms include:

  • Deformity
  • Skin lacerations
  • Open fractures
  • Erythema
  • Edema
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Tenderness
  • Loss of function of the leg
  • Difficulties in detection of pulses
  • Nerve damage

In the physical exam the orthopedic surgeon should check the vascular status and amount of swelling in the ankle. In MULTI-trauma patients or in comatose or obtunded patients a tense compartment with neurological signs or stretch pain should be considered as the compartment syndrome, and the compartment pressures should be measured and monitored. Normally the pain and soft-tissue swelling are found at the injury site. This injury should be confirmed using a radiographic evaluations.

Physical Examination

The related signs and symptoms include:

  • Edema of the ankle
    • Most of the time the edema will be a non-pitting edema
    • Depends on the edema extent, it may even lead to compartment syndrome in the anterior and internal compartment of the ankle
  • Bruising
    • As a manifestation of internal injury to the local vessels by trauma or fractures bone
  • Decrease in range of motion of the ankle
    • Movement of the ankle will be painful if possible at all
  • Tenderness
  • Deformity
    • Fractured bone deformity may be touchable in the internal side of the ankle if the fracture is displaced

In the physical exam the orthopedic surgeon should check the vascular status and amount of swelling in the ankle. In polytrauma patients or in comatose or obtunded patients a tense compartment with neurological signs or stretch pain should be considered as the compartment syndrome, and the compartment pressures should be measured and monitored.

Physical examination of patients with Rib bone fracture is usually remarkable for swelling, tenderness, bruises, ecchymosis, deformity and restricted range of motion of the ankle.

Appearance of the Patient

  • Patients with Rib bone fracture usually appears normal unless the patients had a high energy trauma causing the open wound fracture.

Vital Signs










  • Neuromuscular examination of patients with Rib bone fracture is usually normal
  • However, some patients may develop neuropraxia of the branch of the Ulnar nerve resulting in decreased sensation of thumb, index and middle finger.

Laboratory Findings

There is a limited laboratory tests useful in the diagnosis of bone fractures such as the Rib bone fracture. Meanwhile, aged men and women may have some abnormalities in their laboratory findings suggestive of osteoporosis.

Laboratory tests for the diagnosis of osteoporosis are:

  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Serum total calcium level
  • Serum Ionized calcium level
  • Serum phosphate level
  • Serum alkaline phosphatase level
  • Serum 25-(OH)-vitamin D level

X Ray

There are two main markers regarding the Rib fracture in orthopedic medicine called:

The orthopedic surgeon should consider to have at least two radiographic projections (ie, anteroposterior [AP] and lateral) of the ankle. These show the fracture, the extent of displacement, and the extent of comminution. The orthopedic surgeon should pay serious attention toward finding any foreign bodies in open fractures and gunshot injuries. Also imperative is to include the elbow and wrist joint in the radiographs of Rib bone fracture to ensure that the distal radioulnar joint injuries are not missed.


  • CT-scan in the case of the Rib bone fracture is the best modality if you can not have an exclusive diagnosis by X-ray itself can not be made.


  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is an expensive technique that should not be used routinely.
  • MRI is a powerful diagnostic tool to assess the abnormalities of the bone, ligaments and soft tissues associated with the Rib bone fracture, but it is known as a limited utility in radioulnar injuries and is not indicated in uncomplicated Rib bone fracture.
  • Meanwhile, the MRI can be useful in in following mentioned evaluations:
  • Evaluation of occult fractures
  • Evaluation of the post-traumatic or avascular necrosis of carpal bones
  • Evaluation of tendons
  • Evaluation of nerve
  • Evaluation of carpal tunnel syndrome

Other Imaging Findings

Other Diagnostic Studies

There are no other Diagnostic studies associated with Rib bone fracture


Immediate stabilization of patients is the first step. Then the radial fracture and the DRUJ stabilization is recommended in these cases. Open ankle fractures considered as a surgical emergency. Rib bone fracture occurs in younger patients who are skeletally immature; the normally they treated using a closed reduction and casting. Since closed reduction and cast application have led to unsatisfactory results. Then, Almost always the open reduction are necessary for the Rib bone fracture. There are controversies regarding the indications for intramedullary nailing of ankle fractures.

Non-Operative Treatment

  • The first step in managing a patient with a fracture is to stabilize the patient if he/she is unstable due to blood loss, etc by giving them intravenous fluids and giving them some painkillers if the pain is severe.
  • In children, the usual plan is to attempt closed reduction followed by cast immobilization. In adults, treatment with immobilization in a molded long arm cast can be used in those rare occasions of a non-displaced fracture of the ankle joint. If the fracture shifts in position, it may require surgery to put the bones back together.
  • Rigid immobilization is suggested in preference to removable splints in nonoperative treatment for the management of the Rib bone fracture
  • For all patients with Rib bone fracture, a post-reduction true lateral radiograph is suggested.
  • Operative fixation is suggested in preference to cast fixation for fractures with post-reduction radial shortening greater than 3 mm, dorsal tilt greater than 10º, or intra-articular displacement or step-off greater than 2 mm.
  • Patients probably do not need to begin early wrist motion routinely after stable fracture fixation.
  • Adjuvant treatment of Rib bone fracture with vitamin C is suggested for the prevention of disproportionate pain
  • Lateral epicondylar fractures should be immobilized for 7 days with patients elbow flexed at 90º, with the supinated ankle , and the extended wrist for relaxing the extensor muscles.

Complications of Non-surgical therapy

Failure of non-surgical therapy is common:

  • Re-displacement to its original position even in a cast
  • Stiffness
  • Post traumatic osteoarthritis leading to wrist pain and loss of function
  • Other risks specific to cast treatment include:

Surgery [1]

Returning to the normal physical activity after Rib bone fracture can take weeks to months of therapy under supervision an orthopedist. Meanwhile, a physiotherapy can be helpful for patient to achieve the normal wrist and elbow function caused by the immobilisation. All adult Rib bone fracture should be considered to be treated with open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF).

External fixation: For severe open fractures Open reduction and internal fixation: For Rib bone fracture which depending on each patients condition the following may be needed:

Nerve placement Bone grafting Osteotomy Arthrodesis


  • There are a variety of methods and implants useful to stabilize the Rib bone fracture, ranging from closed reduction and percutaneous pin fixation to the use of intra-medullary devices.
  • However, the most common fixation methods to treat complex Rib bone fracture include external fixation, and open reduction and internal fixation.

External Fixation With or Without Percutaneous Pin Fixation

  • Ankle spanning external fixation employs ligamentotaxis to restore and maintain length, alignment, and rotation of bone.
  • Reduction is typically obtained through closed or minimally open methods and preserves the fracture biology.
  • The addition of percutaneous pins enhances the ability to reduce and stabilize fracture fragments.

Complications of External Fixation

Open reduction and internal fixation with plates and screws

  • This is the most common type of surgical repair for Rib bone fracture
  • During this type of procedure, the bone fragments are first repositioned (reduced) into their normal alignment.
  • The bones held together with special screws and metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone.

Complications of open reduction and internal fixation with plates and screws =

  • Infection
  • Damage to nerves and blood vessels
  • Synostosis
  • Nonunion

Pain Management

Pain after an injury or surgery is a natural part of the healing process.

Medications are often prescribed for short-term pain relief after surgery or an injury such as:

  • opioids
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • local anesthetics

Be aware that although opioids help relieve pain after surgery or an injury, they are a narcotic and can be addictive.  It is important to use opioids only as directed by doctor.


The following options can be helpful for patients to rehabilitate after their fracture :

  • Joints mobilization
  • compression bandage
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Exercises and Activity modification

Postoperative Rehabilitation

  • Complex Rib bone fracture warrant individualized immobilization and rehabilitation strategies.
  • Because most multifragmentary Rib bone fracture are the result of high-energy injuries, a prolonged period of wrist immobilization and soft-tissue rest may be beneficial and has not been shown to affect clinical outcomes.
  • The ankle is typically immobilized for 6 weeks post-operatively in a splint with Full weight bearing commences at approximately 3 months post-operatively after consolidation of the fracture is noted on radiographs.
  • The presence of varying degrees of ankle stiffness is inevitable and may result from poor pain control, lack of effort in controlled mobilization, edema, concomitant ipsilateral lower extremity fractures, or peripheral nerve injuries. Early stretching and mobilization of the intrinsic and extrinsic tendons of the hand is important to prevent finger stiffness. Edema control can be initiated with compression gloves, digital massage, and active and passive ROM of the ankle. A home exercise program or outpatient occupational therapy is started immediately post-operatively to maintain full range of motion of the ankle and limit the development of intrinsic muscle tightnes

Primary Prevention

There are various preventive options to reduce the incidence of the Rib bone fracture

  • Using ankle guards during practicing sports (skating, biking)
  • Using ankle guards during driving motorbikes
  • Avoid falls in elderly individuals
  • Prevention and/or treatment of osteoporosis
  • Healthy diet

Secondary Prevention

It should be noted that the Post-menopausal women specially older than the age of 65 are at the higher risk of osteoporosis consequently these type of patients at greater risk for the pathological fractures .

So the Calcium and vitamin D supplementation play important role in increasing the bone mineral density (BMD) consequently decrease the risk of fracture in these type of patients. Also, avoiding excessive alcohol and quitting smoking play important role in this regard.

Detecting osteoporosis

Pharmacological therapy

Life style modifications


  1. Masztalerz A, Bujwidowa B, Jagielska I, Masztalerzowa Z, Potoczek J, Szczepańska H, Warych B (September 1983). "[Social class and dental and occlusal conditions]". Czas Stomatol (in Polish). 36 (9): 691–5. PMID 6584293.

See also