Cracked Sternum

How To Treat A Cracked Sternum

If you should suffer a cracked sternum, there will be pain, swelling, and possibly bruising. The good news is, the prognosis as far as recovery is concerned is generally excellent, and the sternum usually heals itself. The other piece of good news is that a cracked or broken sternum is somewhat of a rare occurrence, though that may be of little comfort if it actually happens to you.



The sternum is a pretty tough nut when it comes to sustaining injury. It requires a significantly powerful blunt force to do much beyond bruising the surrounding muscles. If the force is sufficient to crack or break the sternum, surrounding organs and tissue will usually be examined, as the chance of the injury extending beyond the sternum is sometimes significant. The heart, lungs, chest wall muscles, and even the thoracic or middle portion of the spine, are usually examined for possible damage.

Between two-thirds and 90% of sternum injuries, including a cracked sternum, come as the result of automobile accidents, usually the result of the chest area coming into contact with the steering wheel. Others sustaining a cracked sternum are usually those suffering from osteoporosis or osteopenia, and those participating in contact sports. When a cracked sternum is diagnosed, the damage almost always involves the upper two thirds of the sternum.

No Surgery, No Cast - A badly broken sternum can often require surgery to put things back in order. Surgery is seldom required for a cracked sternum however. In fact, a person suffering from a cracked sternum won't even be put in a brace or cast in most circumstances. A sternum that has not suffered misalignment in any way will heal itself in a few weeks. A cast of any kind is discouraged, in part because the patient needs to breathe as normally as possible. If only short shallow breathing takes place for an extended time, pneumonia could result. It may be necessary to take pain medication for a time to allow breathing to be normal and comfortable.

Treatment And Rehabilitation - Treatment most often consists of analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, and in some cases opiates, together with a general restriction on activity for as much as 6 weeks. The pain may linger on for a time after healing is complete, perhaps for 2 or 3 months, but eventually goes away. Recovery is 100% in nearly all cases. Very often a program of rehabilitation may need to be followed in which the patient is given instruction in deep breathing to keep the lungs healthy and avoid muscle spasms, which can result from chest muscle inactivity. A regimen of gentle exercise is often also a part of the rehabilitation program. During the recovery process, the patient is advised against moving heavy objects, or any object weighing more than a few pounds, by either pushing, pulling, or lifting. Care must also be taken in operating machinery or driving during this period if pain medication is being taken, as one's general state of alertness can be affected. Complications which could develop during recovery include the aforementioned pneumonia if breathing is restricted, possible lung collapse, and the onset of osteomyelitis, an infection in the bone. In most cases though, especially those in which bone or muscle surrounding the sternum have not suffered major damage, recovery will proceed smoothly.

A Light At The End - While one has to put up with pain and discomfort, as well as a period of relative inactivity for awhile, this is one injury where your can see improvement, if not day to day at least week to week, and know that you'll eventually be back to normal and better than ever.