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Rib stress fracture

A stress fracture of a rib is damage or an incomplete fracture in one of the bones. Following an injury like this you should seek medical attention for your own safety. When too much load is placed on the ribs over long periods of time it can cause small areas of the ribs to become damaged.

The natural healing process in the body allows us to grow new bone in the damaged area although due to activity this isn’t always the case. If the stress placed on the ribs is too much these initially weak areas is where a stress fracture can arise from. This injury is found very often in rowing, this is because of the nature of the movements stressing certain muscle groups that originate from the ribs. This causes increasing damaged to the already weakened area of the ribs.

Symptoms

Those who suffer from a stress fracture of the rib may complain of increasingly localised chest pain developing over a period of weeks. This pain is usually made worse by exercise, coughing and heavy breathing. The area will also be very tender to the touch, warm to touch and occasionally red in colour.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Reduced range of movement
  • Swelling and inflammation
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Stiffness
  • Weakness
  • Inability to exercise without pain
  • Pain associated with breathing

If you suspect you have damage to your ribs you should arrange a consultation with your physiotherapist or doctor to understand the severity of your injury.

Treatment

The best way to diagnosed a stress fracture is through imaging, normally an x-ray or MRI scan would show rib fracture. Once diagnosed there are some treatments that can help with management of the symptoms.

The treatment may involve:

  • Manipulations/mobilisations
  • Fracture treatments
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Postural realignment

The treatment should take between 4-6 weeks of ‘relative rest’ this means avoiding anything that provokes your symptoms. Stabilisation exercises will be included at this point as well as strengthening exercises for surrounding muscle groups local to the injured area. Mobilizsations can be used in the case of a stiff costovertebral and costotransverse joints. At this point rowing is not advised as it is essentially the underlying cause of the injury. Application of ice throughout the healing process will reduce pain but will not heal the stress fracture.

Prevention

Preventative measures can’t always stop the risk of injury but will significantly decrease the chance of you having one from overuse as the cause. Firstly, by ensuring you have the correct technique in your desired sport as well as the correct training load so you are getting enough rest between session is vital in staying injury free. Gradually increasing training loads as well as weightlifting loads will give you the best chance to improve without injury. Having a good balanced diet will also aid your sport and physical performance. If a stress fracture may be developing it is important to recognise it to avoid further injury, this is something that will not just go away.

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