A couple months ago I fractured 3 ribs while snowboarding in Tahoe. I’m not a breaky-bone type of person and not a beginner snowboarder, so this was new and exciting. It was my third run of the day and second run through the terrain park. I was hitting a jump and for whatever reason totally bailed in mid-air and came down with my board sideways to the mountain. Having your board sideways to the mountain is normally okay, except when you are travelling 15-20 mph and falling from an 8 ft height, then it is less okay.

I landed and the momentum carried all my weight forward, smashing my torso into the landing pack. I remember two or three hard bounces and then coming to a stop unable to catch my breath at all. I couldn’t inhale normally and was gasping for air like a goldfish on a snowy mountain. It was pretty cool but unfortunately wasn’t caught on tape, what a waste. I knew something was wrong, I was just hoping it wasn’t too bad like a punctured lung or something, because then I would have to cut down on my smokes. (I dont actually smoke)

Ski patrol slid me down the mountain on a stretcher, about an hour later in the clinic I still couldn’t catch my breath, an ambulance came to take me to the hospital and my blood pressure crashed on the way there and they had to stick an IV in each arm. There was some blood in my urine so they did a CT scan to check for any injured organs leaking out precious life force.

Luckily everything was fine except for the 3 jaggedy ribs, it could have been much worse. And I got a cool CD with pictures of my insides! Truly this is some witchcraft.

Now that I’m pretty much healed up and have gone through the whole process, I have advice to give fellow rib breakers who may follow in my rib steps.

DO:

  • Cough – It will definitely hurt, and don’t do it too often, but maybe 2-5 times a day, cough lightly. This will help keep your lungs clear of fluid and mucus. If you don’t cough, you’ll be susceptible to pneumonia, and you don’t want that.
  • Light shoulder exercises – the side of your body with broken ribs is going to be weak, rolling your shoulders and doing arm circles will help.
  • Breath deeply – my dad is all about these Chinese breathing exercises, and this one he told me to do seemed to help. Inhale, hold and exhale in a 1:4:3 ratio. That is, for every 1 second of inhaling, hold it in for 4 times that number, and exhale for 3 times that. Start with what you can do and work your way up. I started at 2, 8, 6 until I was back to normal. This will also help keep your lungs clear in conjunction with coughing. Do this as many times a day as you can.
  • Have friends bring food – your friends and family will take pity on you and offer to bring food to your house in order to keep you alive. You should graciously accept. Having food delivered to your lap is a wonderful thing.
  • Drink milk – the calcium will be good for your calcifying riblets.
  • Take the recovery slowly – I did almost nothing exerting for the first 5 weeks and took weeks 6-9 very cautiously. I think the later weeks in the recovery period are the most dangerous because mentally you think you are ready for the big kick boxing match when actually your ribs are still gluing themselves together.

DO NOT:

  • Laugh or sneeze – Laughter is the best medicine, except when it jiggles your dangling rib bones. Stay away from your funny friends and funny movies for the first few weeks. I learned this the hard way. Sneezing will also be horrible for you. When you feel a sneeze coming on, tilt your head down and try to suppress it. If you must sneeze or cough, hold a pillow on your stomach and use it as a splint.
  • Use a rib belt – your doctor may give you a rib belt and it may seem helpful at first, kind of holding everything in place, but really all it’s doing is constricting your already labored breathing. I stopped using mine after the first night.
  • Go driving – depending on how many of your ribs have become useless, you should avoid driving. I tried to drive a couple times and it wasn’t very safe, as I couldn’t turn my body to check blind spots or merge onto the highway. Get your nice, sympathetic friends to take you places.
  • Sneeze in bed – I learned this the hard way and this isn’t on WebMD or someplace. Sneezing while laying horizontally still brought shooting pains in week 6, long after the normal pains diminished.
  • Go insane – the world needs you.

Good luck! Hopefully this will help some of you looking for treatment. I’m not a doctor but I play one on the Internet.

53 Responses to “Broken ribs – dos and don’ts”

  1. Cally Bon 04 Jun 2019 at 3:45 pm

    So good to know I’m not just being a wuss….3 broken ribs from 10 days of coughing during bad asthma attacks due to a chest infection so no cool skiing/skateboarding story to show for it but I’m very grateful for the advice here and to know that the excruciating pain was not just me….I would say for me it’s up there with childbirth!!! Breathing – not fun, and sneezing – no way!!! Am finding stretches v helpful now I’m a week in – belly breathing (breathing deeply down into my belly expanding it on each breath), arm and neck stretches and careful squats & lunges to keep some level of fitness….good luck to everyone else unfortunate enough to have these horrid fractures….

  2. Chrison 25 Jul 2019 at 11:50 pm

    66 and had a fall, broken ribs 9 and 10, definitely a pain factor of over 10/10. In my third week now and still can’t sleep flat. Helpful hint for coughing is holding around the side with hand or pressing cushion at site of fracture whilst coughing. At least I was sent home home with lots of good pain meds.Looking forward to week 6

  3. Sherrion 27 Sep 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Fell down a flight of stairs on August 9th and broke 10 ribs on my right side in 14 places, collapsed my right lung and had lacerations on my liver and pancreas. Ribs 3 thru 9 were plated on August 14th. The remaining ribs couldn’t be plated because the break was too close to the spine. Was released from the hospital after seven days in the trauma unit.

    I’m on week 7 and still taking pain meds. Sleeping is uncomfortable. The pain is coming from the breaks that couldn’t be fixed and the muscles. I believe the plating was a god send.

    Glad to see that I’m not the wimp I thought I’ve been. I’ve been told that recovery will take 3 to 6 months and can still have pain for up to a year.

    I know everyone is different but I’m hoping the pain doesn’t last that long. Anyone else been thru this and if so when did you start feeling better?

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