Symptoms Of A Broken Sternum: How Long Does It Take To Heal?

The sternum or the breast bone is located in front of the chest and provides attachment to the 12 ribs on either side, forming the thoracic griddle. This thoracic griddle is very important since it protects internal organs like the heart and the lungs from injury.

In addition, sternum also protects the thymus, which is an essential gland which produces hemopoetic stem cells i.

e. precursors of red blood cells. However the thymus becomes dysfunctional after early childhood.

Direct trauma to the sternum in the form of a blow from an object or a person is the most common cause for broken sternum. High speed vehicular accidents or injury caused during sports activities like football, rugby, hockey or cricket.

Signs And Symptoms Of Fractured Sternum

Some of the key signs and symptoms associated with broken sternum include the following,

  • The fracture is associated with sudden onset of pain in the chest which is usually intense and sharp. The pain is aggravated by any movements namely coughing, sneezing, deep breathing or laughing.
  • The pain is typically aggravated when lying in certain position like face down or sideways.
    The site is tender to touch.
  • Swelling and bruising may also be observed in most cases. In severe injuries, the condition may be associated with obvious deformity of the chest.

Though in most cases, the diagnosis is based on physical examination and medical history, the physician may request for an X-ray of the chest to confirm diagnosis. In cases of unexplained pain or risk of associated organ damage, CT scan or MRI imaging may be requested. In some cases, additional tests to ascertain the appropriate functioning of the heart and the lungs may also be performed.

How Long Does It Take To Heal A Broken Sternum?

Localized pain may be treated with ice packs and rest. Local application of ice for 20 minutes every two hours during the initial phases of injury can help alleviate the pain. Over the counter medicines may be used to alleviate the pain.

The duration for healing of a sternum may depend upon two factors- the severity of the injury and level of displacement of the bone. Further, extent of damage to the surrounding organs may also play a crucial role in the healing of the sternum.

  • Simple sternum fractures which are not associated with displacement or internal tissue damage can heal with the support of splints within 4 to 10 weeks (it would take longer in elderly patients and heals quickly in children).
  • Complex sternum fractures associated with displacement and internal organ damage may require bony alignments and fixation using pins and plates. In most cases, following surgery, the bone heals within 6 to 8 weeks; however complete recovery may take as long as six months.

The recovery can be hastened by performing simple exercises to improve the posture and enhance the strength and flexibility of the joint. The focus is to prevent stiffness and atrophy of the concerned muscles. Eventually a comprehensive rehabilitation plan may be required under the supervision of a trained physiotherapist. Use of padding and chest guards may be required during the initial stages to prevent secondary injuries.

The prognosis for the condition often depends upon a variety of factors and in most cases the patient can return to routine non strenuous activities within three months.

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