A fractured sternum happens when there is a crack or break in the sternum. The sternum is a long vertical bone found in the center of the chest together with the 12 ribs which is the anterior part of the chest. The sternum and the ribs serves as a protective enclosure for the tissue and vital organs such as the lungs and the heart. A direct blow to the chest can cause a fractured sternum.
Causes of fractured sternum
- A direct blow by an object due to vehicular accidents.
- Playing contact sports such as rugby and hockey
- Sudden onset of chest pain immediately after the injury.
- Spasms can be felt in the center of the chest.
- Pain in the chest becomes worse at night or immediately after getting up in the morning.
- Pain becomes worse especially when coughing, sneezing, laughing and inhaling deeply.
- Pain is severe in lying down positions
- Pain when moving sideways, twisting, arching backwards and bending forwards and when moving the upper limb such as pushing, pulling, heavy lifting and overhead activities.
- Swelling and bruising of the affected area.
- Difficulty breathing
- Deformity of the affected area such as an indentation on the chest that can be seen.
Treatment of a fractured sternum will depend on the seriousness of the fracture and if there are any serious issues such as damage to the heart, lungs, blood vessels and other vital organs.
- Take plenty of rest especially for fast healing of the condition. It takes about 2-3 months for the sternum to fully heal.
- Apply a cold compress on the first 72 hours to lessen the swelling and pain. Avoid placing the pack directly on the skin to prevent frostbite. Wrap the ice pack in a towel and place on the area for at least 15-20 minutes every hour.
- Take the prescribed over-the-counter pain medication to lessen the pain and swelling.
- Immobilization of the joint for fast healing and for proper alignment of the affected area.
- Perform deep breathing if it does not cause pain to prevent the collapse of the lungs. This should be performed when the condition has already healed.
- Gradually return to normal activities if the symptom does not worsen.
- Seek the help of the physical therapist for some rehabilitation exercises to improve flexibility, strength and posture.
- Return to regular activities and sports by wearing chest guards or protective padding to prevent future injuries.
The details posted on this page on a fractured sternum is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage fractures including a fractured sternum, enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.