What Are the Symptoms of a Fractured Sternum?

The sternum is the flat, long bone in the chest’s center that forms the front of the rib cage. Cartilage connects the sternum to the ribs to create a protective shield for the lungs, heart, and major blood vessels in the area. 

Most fractures to the sternum are caused by direct trauma to the area, such as that experienced in a car accident, a fall, or during high-impact sports. With that said, it’s important to know what the symptoms of a fractured sternum entail so you can take action as soon as possible.

Sternum Injury Symptoms

The first warning sign of a fractured sternum to be aware of is any pain or discomfort that occurs while breathing following an accident, such as a slip and fall at work or something similar at home.

Other symptoms include the following:

  • Sudden onset of pain in the chest after a fall or impact
  • The sternum area being tender to the touch
  • Bruising in the area
  • Pain in the chest while coughing or sneezing
  • Constant pain in the chest that does not radiate to other areas

The symptoms of a bruised sternum are almost identical to the symptoms of a fractured sternum, but treatment for the two conditions can be radically different. If fragments of the sternum bone were displaced, surgery may be required. In any case, do not ignore the warning signs of a fractured sternum; seek emergency medical care right away.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Since trauma is the most common cause of a fractured sternum, several treatments may prove necessary. 

Your doctor will order a specific type of X-ray known as a lateral radiograph to check the extent of the injury. If follow-up appointments are suggested, you need to make sure you keep up with your appointments, as it is vital to have the progress of your healing monitored to avoid any complications.

Although rest is the most common treatment for a break in that area, a sternal fracture may require more serious care, and ice packs and over-the-counter pain medications may only be enough to reduce swelling and manage pain temporarily. If your pain is severe and not improving, consult with your physician. 

Though rare, surgery may be required to reposition the bone. While recovering, follow these suggestions to avoid developing a chest infection:

  • Support your chest while coughing
  • Do not suppress any coughs 
  • Practice taking deep breaths throughout the day
  • Do not take cough medicine unless recommended by your physician

Contact your doctor if you feel short of breath, develop a fever, or begin coughing up phlegm that is green, yellow, or bloody. 

Potential Fractured Sternum Complications

A fractured sternum can be a serious injury that causes recurring chest pain for upwards of eight to 12 weeks. The trauma that caused the fracture could also bruise underlying heart or lung tissue, leading to long-term complications if the sternum does not heal properly. 

Older adults and those with diabetes are at higher risk for a painful condition called pseudarthrosis, which may require surgery. Stiffness and pain in the arms, shoulders, and spine may also develop. 

Protect Your Rights and Get Help From a Personal Injury Lawyer

Whether caused by a motorcycle accident, a fall, or a sports injury, a fractured sternum can cause painful complications that require intensive medical care. 

If you have suffered a sternal fracture due to negligence or unsafe practices on someone else’s part, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Protect your health by consulting with a physician, and protect your legal rights by scheduling a consultation with a personal injury lawyer.

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