What to do about a rib that doesn't heal?
August 31, 2019 7:58 AM   Subscribe

I had a nondisplaced fracture of the 9th rib 13 weeks ago. It doesn't seem to be getting any better. What do I do now?

I fractured my 9th rib 13 weeks ago. There was no trauma - I was doing bench presses and dips at the gym (which seems a weird way to break a rib), but an xray confirmed a nondisplaced fracture. My doctor said rest is the only treatment and that it should be better in 6 weeks.

Now 13 weeks later it hasn't healed and the pain/tenderness, while not unbearable, doesn't seem to be getting better. I'd like to see a specialist to see what's going on but I don't know what type of doctor to see. I called the local orthopedist group and they said nobody there deals with ribs. I called a sport medicine doctor and he doesn't either. My internist is on vacation and her office hasn't been helpful.

Is there a rib specialist? What type of doctor should I see for this type of problem?
posted by btkuhn to Health & Fitness (3 answers total)
I memailed you.
posted by nantucket at 8:03 AM on August 31, 2019

Physical therapist! But yeah, rib specialists are hard to find. A good bet would be to look for a physical therapist trained in Muscle Energy Technique. Despite the name, it has nothing to do with energy, and more recently has been called Contract-Relax instead. Basically you do some muscle contractions in some specific positions while the therapist provides resistance, and this will help to reset your body's sense of whether the muscles involved still need to hold tension or not. One way to find such a therapist would be to google "Muscle Energy Technique + your location," which will yield PT/osteopaths/massage therapists/etc., and then call up the first few hits and see if they know a physical therapist to recommend for your particular case.

You could consider going to a chiropractor too - just make sure to vet them thoroughly. The number one sign of a good chiro is that they advertise doing "soft tissue work" and "sports medicine" - if they don't have a website, call them and ask about it. Signs of a bad/ineffective/outdated chiro include selling you "maintenance packages" of 10-12 visits, recommending that you see them frequently (like daily or 3x/week), and selling nutritional supplements in the office.
posted by danceswithlight at 4:01 PM on August 31, 2019

You might have torn the cartilage or ligament that hold the rib in place properly so it never went back into place. Considering how you injured it an avulsion type fracture seems more likely anyway.

I'd start by getting the original imaging and having some look at it again, redo it. But I finally, after years, had the real problem diagnosed when I had a totally unrelated bout of pneumonia and the pulmunologist (sp?) looked at the x-rays and talked to me. I guess it's more common with chest injuries and chest surgery, than regular orthopedic type injuries.

Anyway after years of having this dumb rib randomly move around and intermittently cause me a ton of pain I was taught how to "pop" it back into place by a PT then breathing exercises to build up the muscles to keep it there, half by a PT and half by a speech therapist. I wasn't breathing into that side of my rib cage or using my diaphragm properly for, oh 12 or 15 years. Now I do and it is pretty stable and doesn't hurt very often anymore and I can fix it myself when it does. Amazing.
posted by fshgrl at 12:38 PM on September 1, 2019

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