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Cracked Rib
March 2003

Q. I have been diagnosed with a cracked rib. It has probably been 3 weeks since the pain became noticeable. For a week prior to that there was pain, but not as bad. I am scheduled to play in an amateur golf tournament in Arizona in about 14 days, and I'm not sure whether I will be able to play. It is a four day tournament. Is there anything I can do to prepare or help the healing process or do while playing to eliminate the pain?

A. Broken ribs are a very painful and disabling condition. In the human body, there are twelve pairs of ribs; ten pairs attach to the spine and wrap around to attach to the sternum in the front of the chest, and the two lower pairs only attach to the spine in the back. The ribs serve to protect the internal organs, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, spleen, from injury. The bones have a lot of nerve endings so when damage occurs, pain is significant.

The general principle for treating broken bones is to put them back into the right place anatomically, and allow time for healing. In the case of a broken arm, this would mean a cast, or surgery followed by a cast, and 4-12 weeks to heal depending on location and severity.

The ribs cannot be immobilized without causing severe lung problems (pneumonia, collapsed lung) so they are usually left alone to heal in time, meaning lots of pain and disability while that takes place. Since the ribs move whenever we breathe, this is a difficult process! Pain is usually the guiding factor as to what activities you can try; golf involves strong use of the trunk and arm muscles, so a quick return to this sport is not likely.



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