What are the initial goals of rib fracture emergency care?

Updated: Jun 13, 2017
  • Author: Sarah L Melendez, MD; Chief Editor: Trevor John Mills, MD, MPH  more...
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The goal of initial ED care is stabilization of the trauma patient and multisystem trauma evaluation.

Respiratory care, including use of incentive spirometry to prevent atelectasis and its complications, is often important. Holding a pillow or similar soft brace against the fracture site reduces discomfort while using the spirometer or when coughing.

Pain control is fundamental to the management of rib fractures to decrease chest wall splinting and alveolar collapse in order to clear pulmonary secretions. Isolated rib fractures, without associated injuries, may be managed on an outpatient basis with oral analgesics, starting with NSAIDs if not contraindicated and progressing to narcotics if not sufficient. A lidocaine patch for pain control has been used, but one study suggests its efficacy is no greater than placebo. [40]  Other options include parenterally administered narcotics titrated to prevent respiratory depression. While rib belts or binders do control pain, they have been linked to hypoventilation, atelectasis, and pneumonia. As a result, their use is no longer recommended

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