Broken ribs caused by coughing- is that possible?

Synonyms in a broader sense

  • Broken rib
  • rib
  • Rib series break
  • Serial rib fracture
  • Rupture of the rib
  • Pneumothorax
  • Pain in the lung fracture of the rib

Medical: Rib fracture

Figure broken rib

Figure broken rib

A rib fracture (rib fracture)
B - pneumothorax (collapsed lung)
C - rib series break
D - broken rib
(Broken ribs)

  1. Collarbone - Clavicle
  2. Rib - Costa
  3. Ribs 1-7 (true ribs) -
    Costa 1-7 (Costae verae)
  4. Costal cartilage -
    Cartilago costalis
  5. Ribs 11
    (rudimentary ribs) -
    Costa 11 (Cost. fluctuantes)
  6. Ribs 8-10 (false ribs) -
    Costa 8-10 (Costae spuriae)
  7. Sternum handle -
    Manubrium sterni
  8. Right lung -
  9. Sternum body -
    Corpus sterni
  10. Left lung -
    Pulmo sinister
  11. Sword extension -
    Xiphoid process
  12. Ribs 12
    (rudimentary ribs) -
    Costa 12 (Cost. fluctuantes)
  13. Costal arch -
    Arcus costalis

You can find an overview of all Dr-Gumpert images at: medical illustrations

Broken rib from coughing?

If the cough is strong and persistent, the high stress on the chest can lead to a broken rib.

A broken rib can have a variety of causes, and the most common is an accident. But even a very strong, persistent cough can unexpectedly break the rib. The cough is an arbitrary, i.e. self-controllable, or a cough reflex triggered by a painful urge to cough and thus involuntarily triggered. The glottis opens and the air is expelled explosively at a very high speed. Since the cough reflex serves to protect and secure the airways from foreign material and to clean the airways from bronchial secretions, it is very strong and can lead to great development of strength in the chest cavity. This massive development of force in the chest can cause a broken rib, especially if the cough is very strong or persistent. However, this is rather rare and should always make one think of concomitant diseases.

The risk is particularly high in patients who suffer from reduced bone density, which can result from osteoporosis or cancer. Osteoporosis leads to porous and therefore unstable bones, which can break even under light stress. Some types of cancer can also settle in the bones and attack the bone structure there. This also makes the bones increasingly unstable. The result is pathological fractures which occur due to inadequate trauma. This also includes a violent cough, which can then lead to a broken rib. Usually only one rib is broken. If there is sudden severe pain on one side of the chest, a rib fracture should therefore always be considered, especially in older people with known osteoporosis.

Read more on the topic: What kind of pain occurs with osteoporosis?

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If you have a persistent cough, you can Rib cage in different ways stabilizeto ease the cough. For example, when you sit upright with your arms on your knees. Through this "Coach seat"The lungs are dilated and it is easier to cough up the stuck mucus. Furthermore, when coughing the flat hand placed on chest to act as a resistance to the coughs. This reduces the pressure and at the same time supports the bones.

Last but not least, coughing can exacerbate the symptoms of a broken rib. This means that a broken rib can lead to severe pain in the rib area due to a slight cough. Due to the massive pain, the patient then finds it significantly more difficult to breathe, resulting in dyspnea. Here, too, the pain can only be treated with pain medication and waiting. Rib fractures are surgically treated only very rarely. Particularly sudden severe pain in the rib area during a strong cough should suggest a broken rib and be confirmed by image diagnosis, as a broken rib can in rare cases lead to severe complications.

Read more on the topic: Rib fracture pain and pain on the costal arch from coughing

root cause

Normal coughing cannot normally lead to a broken rib. A broken rib can only actually occur with a very strong cough. Such a cough is usually caused by allergic-asthmatic attacks, severe infections with whooping cough or severe bronchitis.

The cause that ultimately leads to a broken rib from coughing lies in the process of coughing. Such a strong cough is usually involuntary. Coughing represents a natural protective reflex of the body, through which foreign bodies or mucus from the airways are to be transported outwards when irritated. When coughing, you first take a deep breath. As a result, almost all the muscles of the upper body are tensed and consequently the air is expelled from the lungs with enormous strength. With this type of air expulsion, an enormous overpressure is generated inside the chest. This exertion of pressure on the chest to the outside can lead to rib fractures or bruises. A break that occurs in this way is also known as a cough break.

Osteoporosis is a particular risk factor for such a broken rib. The bone density is lower than it should normally be. As a result, the bones have less stability, which makes it easier for them to break.

Find out more about the topic: osteoporosis


Many patients suffer from the symptoms of a broken rib. The Painthat occur when the rib is broken, are greatly aggravated when coughing. The reason for this is that great intrathoracic pressure builds up when you cough, which causes the Chest more stretched becomes. Movement of the chest also causes the fracture to move, which increases the pain. Added to this are those during coughing Vibrations of the entire chest areawhich also irritate the wound and fracture.

Nice that normal breathing is common for the patients very uncomfortable and painful. Because of this, there is a risk that the patient do not breathe in and out deep enoughto avoid pain. This will make the deeper lung areas not adequately ventilated and it creates a good breeding ground for bacteria. There is thus an increased Risk of pneumonia (Pneumonia) to develop. This should be avoided at all costs as it will lead to an even stronger cough, which in turn will cause even more pain. Therefore, many patients in the hospital are instructed Breathing exercises close. As long as they are in hospital, patients are often shown with the help of physiotherapists how to breathe normally despite pain.

What is the therapy like?

Treating a broken rib caused by coughing is identical to treating a broken rib caused by other causes. However, the cause of a broken rib due to coughing is rather unlikely compared to a broken rib due to blunt force and is therefore usually only discovered by chance. However, a broken rib is not as unlikely as one might initially think. If you have common symptoms of a hernia, such as severe pain or crunching when breathing, you should definitely see a doctor. This can avoid worse consequences, prescribe painkillers and give instructions for further behavior.

Also read the article on the topic: Broken rib - what can you do?

However, in order to avoid further rib fractures and to accelerate the healing phase, there are a few factors to consider. During coughing, when the air is expelled, the mucous membranes inside the lungs collapse. Injury can occur while the lungs are re-irritated, triggering another cough. This can create a vicious circle, making another rib breakage not unlikely. In order to get out of this vicious circle, it is important to try to breathe shallowly and cough as gently as possible. In order to avoid pneumonia, however, you should still breathe in and out as deeply as possible.

Find out more about the topic: Treatment of a broken rib

Broken ribs during pregnancy

A rib fracture during pregnancy is not very common, but it can possibly be favored because the growing child in the womb places increased stress on the trunk. The increased pressure and tension can lead to a higher risk of a broken rib.
Coughing in particular can cause a broken rib during pregnancy.

If a broken rib is suspected in a pregnant woman, an ultrasound is usually done so that the unborn child is not exposed to radiation. An x-ray examination is only required in rare exceptions.

As a rule, most broken ribs are harmless even during pregnancy. However, they are an additional burden for pregnant women, especially shortly before the birth, and can lead to very severe pain. Coughing in particular can increase this pain enormously.
At this point you can also read our topic: What to do about the pain of a broken rib
If the rib fracture is very recent and just before delivery, a caesarean section may be the better choice in some cases to avoid greater pain or complications. However, in most cases, normal birth is possible.

Please also read our topic: Costal arch pain during pregnancy