The problem with rib injuries, and particularly fractures, is that they cannot be immobilized. When someone breaks a bone in the arm or leg, a cast is placed to keep the area still. This helps with both pain control and healing time.
When you break a rib, it is impossible to keep that area still. You cannot cast the ribcage. Between the ribs are muscles and cartilage that help you take in a breath.
Every time you breathe, those muscles between the ribs and the rib bones themselves move. That movement brings on more pain. This pain can get worse if you end up laughing, coughing or sneezing.
A belt placed around the ribs used to be part of the normal treatment for an injury or fracture. It was used mainly because it gave the patient some relief from the pain.
We also found out these same patients were getting more pneumonias, one of the delayed issues that can result from a rib injury, because the rib belt did not allow patients to take any deep breaths.
Normally, we all take a deep sigh around three to four times every day. This action lets our lungs exchange air we normally do not move in and out.
Sighing deeply moves that air, which is important because otherwise bacteria can build up in that space and cause pneumonia. A rib belt will not let you breath deep enough for this air exchange, so it increases your risk of getting this infection with a rib injury.
Instead, patients are encouraged to take deep breaths throughout the day, much like Ritter is doing while in the hospital. They typically use a device called an incentive spirometer, which helps them move air in and out of their lungs.
Doctors hope with this device, some pain medication and time, Ritter should recover quickly and completely and be back to riding his bicycle again.
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