10 Months After Fractured Ribs

When you fracture something, you figure it will take time to heal.  Then you figure it will take time to rebuild.  And then you figure you will be back to normal, just like before. Break-heal-recover-fixed.  But no one ever tells you that sometimes you might have lingering pain.

When I broke my ribs as a result of the impact from a silly bike topple just before the CapTex USA Paratriathlon National Championships, I knew that it would have an impact on my triathlon season.  I dropped two races in 2012 (The Blenheim Triathlon and The Paris Triathlon) because of the fractures.  I knew I would need to rehab my injury.  I was taped, I did some shoulder exercises, and I was patient (kind of).

I started swimming again about three weeks post break, but I didn’t “SWIM” until about six weeks after the break. I waited to feel healed before really hitting training.  I naively thought that would be it, I would just get back to normality.

When I finally got back to swimming my times had slowed dramatically, from a steady consistent 1.45 per 100m pre-fracture (and 1.40 wetsuit assisted) to about 2.00 per 100m at best.  When Rev3 Old Orchard Beach came around, I was looking forward to racing and was thankful to be out there.  I threw my time goals out the window and used the format (middle distance aquabike) just to try something new and to have fun.  One of the things I didn’t reflect on in my race report was how OFF my swim felt.  I felt like I just couldn’t get any power out of my right arm (the side that I broke my ribs).  I thought more time training would right this, and looked forward to testing myself with a hard swim at The London Triathlon. But I still did not feel right in the water by the end of September.  My shoulder was clicking a lot, and I just felt weaker and like I was getting slower in the water – no matter how much additional training I was doing.

So finally in I had had enough.  I knew something was not right, something left unaddressed post bike topple in May, and I knew I needed to go back to the drawing board to fix things.

Enter Ellis Taylor of Tatami HealthI started seeing Ellis in October to find out the reasons for and to FIX the lingering shoulder issues I had from May’s crash.  Essentially with the fracture my shoulder had pulled forward and out of alignment as the muscles tightened to protect the injured ribs.  So to bring things back to a more normal state we started with gentle exercises to work on spatial awareness (quite similar to what I did during my Bay Swim training), and then slowly built in weights to work on strengthening around the joint.  I had strict orders to stop all weight training and to stop using paddles in the pool until stability and basic strength had returned to my shoulers.  Slowly and steadily I rebuilt so that by January I was able to resume training as usual with weights at bootcamp and paddles in the pool.  And I was feeling much better.

Not only was I feeling better, but as I have continued to work on shoulder strength and stability I have grown stronger than ever in the pool.  I am now consistently clocking less than 1.40 per 100m on my hard sets.  With a wetsuit on this is about 1.30 per 100m.  I have never swum this fast before.  So it is a testament to the power of consistent and constant rehab – so important after an injury, and I think vital for someone like me who is hypermobile.

But one thing that has not gone away is the lingering pain.

Image sourced from google, original source Pain (The Game)

No one ever tells you that you may have pain that continues for a while after chest fractures.  Well, okay.  Almost no one.  If you read the blogs of pro triathletes who have had career changing injuries like Joanna Zeiger you may know that rib fractures can lead to significant and lasting pain.  It’s just that my topple was so silly, so “gentle”, I never expected that I would have any kind of post-injury pain.

From what I can understand from Ellis and my sports therapist Michael Collins, my pectoral muscles attach to the area where my ribs were fractured.  This area also has a lot of nerves and cartilage.  So it is sensitive and can take a while to “feel better”.  As I am rebuilding and getting stronger, when the muscles get tight they pull on the same (formerly injured) spot.  This causes me to have a dull continual ache – what I imagine a toothache must feel like.  I notice it the most after hard swims, yoga and bootcamp – activities where I use my shoulder and chest muscles.  And I think I notice the ache now – months after my fracture – because I am finally starting to use my muscles in “the right way”.

So what is my point?

This is not a “woe is me” post.  Rather, I just want anyone who is injured to learn from my experiences.

1. You may be treated for the obvious injury (in my case rib fractured) but the longer term issues that require physical therapy may be initially untreated.

Tap into a good trusted physiotherapist as soon as possible in your rehab process so that you can start to work on the “collateral” damage from your injury.

2. Just because you feel better, don’t assume you are fixed. 

Again, work with a trusted physio to develop, monitor and assess yourself during the rebuilding process.  You may find that you have to address other things that are going on as you rebuild, to avoid ongoing issues.  Get a good dialogue and working relationship going with your therapist so that you can address these head on and early in the game.

3. Expect the unexpected and if you want something be prepared to persevere. 

I had no idea I’d have a continuing dull ache from my injury 10 months post topple.  I know it relates to tight pectoral muscles so I am prepared to continue to work not only on my shoulder strength (because it is helping my swim SO MUCH) but also to figure out how to keep loose and how to stretch out my pecs, to manage the ache.  I can completely understand why people give up doing things after injury as the aches can be tough – but persevere and talk with your team to figure out how to best manage things.  Don’t quit asking questions and seeking relief.  Because the reward of being active is worth it.

4. Keep it all in perspective.

I was swimming yesterday and although it felt uncomfortable, I did hit some good times including my best yet 100m hard effort.  I was chatting post-swim with one of the guys in my lane.  I knew he was coming back from some sort of injury, but what I hadn’t appreciated was that yesterday was his third swim in about 18 months, after having dislocated his wrist, broken his arm, and suffering related shoulder problems.  He was faster than me in the pool so I hadn’t realised the extent of his injuries and type of comeback he was just starting to make.

It’s really easy to forget to consider the people around you when you are focused on your own pain and injuries.  Don’t.  Because I took an extra 5 minutes post-swim to chat with “the fast guy” I now have a new lane buddy who is dealing with rebuilding post injury too.  So when my swimming is hurting I can look to him for an extra bit of inspiration to push through and work hard.

Always make the time to learn about others and what they are up to.

29 responses to “10 Months After Fractured Ribs”

  1. I still have pain from my hip fracture.  It scares & annoys me in equal measure.  I listen to it, I rest it, I try not to do more than I know I’m supposed to.  Frustrating is the word!

  2. I fractured my ribs 3 months ago and I’m only just going to go back to work this Friday coming.im hoping I will be ok as I am a carer in a nurseing home which requires a lot of strenuous moving 🙁 I do have the rib pain you talk of and I’m also experiencing a dull heavy ache in between my shoulder blades like I’ve worked out but haven’t? Not sure if hat could be related or not?

    • I would definitely ask a physiotherapist for advice with regard to the pain and compensations you could be making. I recently was diagnosed with a tendon tear in my shoulder, and I have the aching between my shoulder blades. A lot of that for me is related to the strength work from rehab, and also mobility work (as I developed a lot of compensating movements which tightened up my back which now needs stretching and opening).

      Good luck with your return to work – keep focused on rehab and keep consistent as it really helps – and thanks for stopping by to comment!

  3. Hi. This really was a wonderful article. I had my 8 right ribs fractured about 10 weeks back. I have been advised some physiotherapy and light yoga. The healing is good, but I feel pain sometimes. My only concern is when will I be able to resume activities like running, bending etc.

    • I’m glad you found it helpful! I will say that I am confident that you will recover, although it may take more time than you expect. One thing you might find good to get back running is the Alter-G treadmill. I started using one as a part of my recovery from my broken ribs and have stuck with it as a great tool to help my running.

      Good luck and keep me posted on how you are doing. And happy running!

  4. Hi,
    Found this article really interesting as I was beginning to think I was the only one !!
    I’m 58 and love mountain biking (not extreme I add) fell off on a rough byway bashing my ribs onto the ruts and breaking three ribs. I am now into month four and still get pain as if it is still badly bruised. It’s mainly at night and it wakes me with a start!!
    Is there any type of physiotherapy you could recommend i.e.: Massage, light training etc that would help? I am on anti inflammatory tablets and light pain killers but still the pain goes on.

    Any help would be appreciated.


    • It was explained to me by two sports massage therapists as well as a chiropractor that when you break ribs, there is a hardening of myofascial and connective tissues around the area once they heal that can lead to residual pain. I have found that a good sports massage around the ribs impacted – including lots of stretching and dynamic massage techniques – really helped me out.

      One thing I would also do is to make sure your shoulders are ok after your fall, depending of course on how you fell. Both times I fell on my bike I have wound up with lingering shoulder issues that really surface when I go swimming. It never hurts to get a trained physiotherapist to look at your shoulder strength and function to make sure you are on track and ready to get back in the saddle come springtime!

      Good luck with the rehab!

  5. I broke a rib 7 weeks ago (my 9th rib) and was told it would take 4 to 6 weeks to get better.
    Although it is much better now I still get pain when I turn a certain way and when I get up in the morning. Also I feel I still cannot lift anything heavy ie. carry shopping.
    From the above I believe this is normal but I was worried thinking something was wrong.
    Is there any exercises I can do to speed up the healing process and can I expect to have discomfort for some time to come?
    I am 56 years old

    • Hi Jill,

      Thanks for stopping by and reading my post.

      I found that a good sports massage in the area helped me to loosen off the tight muscles (which according to my doctor’s / therapist tighten to protect the bones when healing) which in turn helped with the pain.

      I broke much higher up, 2/3 I think, so my experience will inevitably be different than yours. It may be worth going to a physical therapist / physiotherapist just to check out if you have any other tightness or mobility issues that are triggering pain. They also can give exercises to build up strength and confidence again.

      Good luck with the rehab!

    • I fractured my 9th rib 6 months ago i cant believe how long it’s taking to heal. I’m 63 and evidently it happened through coughing.
      2 year’s ago i fractured my spine. ..I’ve had breast cancer so could my bones be easily fractured now from treatment.

  6. good to read. I fractured a rib (I am almost 60) over a year ago. I have tightness in the rib area surrounding the fracture. It pinches. I will begin doing stretches again and back to chiro and massage. thanks for posting. i think the older you get the longer it lasts! 🙂

  7. It was good to read that the pain from broken ribs last beyond the healing. Being 60 I am not as active as what I read with the post I read as I have fibromyalgia and have a bad back. I broke 3 ribs last fall when I became very sick and had a very hard cough. My Dr. did X-rays and told me I had cracked 3 ribs on my right side. Because the pain from coughing hurt my ribs so bad I would tuck my right arm really tight up against my cracked ribs, hold my left arm very tight against my body and bend over in a tight ball to keep my body from jerking so much. And yes it did help because I have always had a very hard cough when I get sick. Well, within 3 days I developed a pain in my back rib age. By the second day the pain had moved to cover the whole of my back rib cage and was just as painful as the cracked ribs. I was in my Dr’s office for the 4th time in relation with this same illness. Because of tightening up my body to keep from hurting so bad when I coughed I had pulled the muscles in my back rib cage from one side to the other. Needless to say I was in as much pain with the pulled muscles as the cracked ribs. Actually more so as I couldn’t move, breathe, talk without severe pain at this point.

    Now after I have “so said” healed I still have the ache and pain here and there in my ribs and where I pulled the muscles when I have done too much. But with the knowledge of all that I have read I know it is normal and that the lingering pain will eventually go away. Thank you for the information.

  8. I was in a car wreck 2 years ago and broke 19 bones (including 12 ribs and my sternum, scapula, spine, pelvis, tail bone, right femur, and more). I have this constant aching pain that is especially awful in the mornings. I can’t even get out of bed till my pain medicine kicks in. I was trying to find a reason for my ongoing pain and thought your article made complete sense. Just imagine all of the muscles that tightened in my case. lol Not to mention, my skin, muscles, and fat on my back all seperated from each other during the wreck. I also experience A LOT of muscle cramps. I hear from so many people “your bones are healed, so why are you still in pain”. I know yours and my situations are way different, but any sort of understanding helps. And I think this may be part of it.

    • Hi Jana. Thanks for your comment and for reaching out. Massage has been critical in helping me to manage pain and to heal following injury. Particularly myofascial release. I hope you find relief, and although our situations are different, I hope that my experiences have helped you a bit. Keep in touch.

  9. Thank you for this post. I was training on my bike for a triathlon 7 weeks out when I was doored and broke a rib, and initially I didn’t want to drop out and wanted to start training again ASAP but this article was a tipping point where I decided to prioritize my long-term health and withdraw.

    • Thanks for reaching out. How are you doing now and how is your healing going? Rib fractures can take a while… Stay consistent and good luck with your rehab and training post injury.

  10. HI I want to thank you for this article. I am 49 & fell on May 19th and broke ribs 7, 8, 9, 10 & 11. It wasn’t until 6 weeks after the fall that I was able to move around very much. I used to do yoga but find I am still unable to bear any weight on my left side. It feels like it is pulling and clicking at times. Wearing a bra is very difficult but a must. I only missed 4 days of work, wish I could have taken more but not allowed. I think my healing would have been better. As of now, I still have trouble laying on my back or on my stomach. Will look into the physio. Massage sounds painful…Best to you and all

    • Hi Jax, thanks for your note. Massage was indeed painful to receive, but after I felt it really helped me with healing, and helped to reduce my pain levels. I hope you can find relief. Good luck with your rehab and your return to yoga – you will get there. In the meantime, maybe explore chair yoga to keep up with you practice?

  11. Hi I went over the handlebars of my Mountain bike on xmas eve and broke three ribs, it is now August 16 and I am still getting pian especially at night. 6 to to 10 weeks may be the norm but not for me. I did my first second race tough 60k last Sunday and every bump I feel.

    • Larry,

      How are you doing? I had a similar situation with my bike, have a three day stage race in 3 months. Getting anxious as it’s been three months since my accident and I have a persistent pain in my lower rib cage.

      Did u just “give it time”, get more x-rays, etc. I hesitate to see to see a doc because it never seems to help, and not sure what can be done for ribs anyway.

      Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

      Feel free to just email me: slycat_67@yahoo

      49 – broken ribs

  12. So glad to have found this article! On August 13, I fell across a bus aisle and landed on my ribs on the partition behind the driver’s seat, forgetting in my just awakened stupor that there is a step down from the first seat.. It knocked the wind out of me and before I could get off my ribs, something in my back snapped. I went to Memphis ER to see if I’m broken and the PA said that I was not broken, it was just muscle pain. I proceeded on my journey to a truck driving school and did all the physical and agility testing, picking up boxes with weights and carrying them some distance. I was in agony, but the PA said it was muscle pain, so I sucked it up like so many sports stars do when they are injured in a game. DOT doc made a note of my inability to lift myself up from the exam table. Hence my scheduling an appt. with a chiropractor for an adjustment. The thought was that I must be out of alignment and once I am in alignment, then I can get a medical release and continue my journey into trucking. ..I could not even lay face down on his table…he adjusted me sitting up. He gave me exercises to do and a note to come back on 8/31. The exercises are for stretching and they seem to help. After I arrived back home, I noticed that I could finally push myself out of bed with minimal pain, and after being prayed over on Sunday I was able to take deep breaths breathing- –so deep that I noticed a clicking as my lungs expanded. I decided I should get a 2nd opinion and went to a hospital in Mobile, AL. Lungs looked good, and when I went back to get x rays on my ribs, I made sure to expand my lungs enough to feel the click. Sure enough, my 6th rib is broken! Now I’m debating with myself as to go back as scheduled after only 3 weeks post accident, or wait until 6 full weeks are up. Bills do not pay themselves, and if I can pass agility test with a fresh fracture, I can do it again halfway to whole again. Wouldn’t get on truck until after the 4th week, so, the latest PA said 4 to 6 weeks is the healing time. I suppose I’ll let the clicking be my guide…if I’m still clicking at 3 weeks, I’ll postpone it for the full 6 weeks.

  13. I’m 52, crashed on a bike eight months ago, broke #9 posterior, I’m guessing about four inches from the spine. Never broke a bone before in my life. Very painful, and I took four weeks off the bike. No internal complications, just some lingering pain. But here I am, eight months to the day later, and I can’t sleep on my left side for very long. I can predict rain, though. I don’t understand how I can ride over a hundred miles a week at a brisk pace, I can cough and sneeze without pain, but I can’t sleep in the position I want. Pain meds obviously help, but I’m not going down that road. I was told that this will pass, but it may take a full year. I certainly wouldn’t consider surgery unless there were internal problems, which there do not appear to be. Thanks for this article.

  14. I broke my 10 & 11 left back side on July 1st, 2016. I felt “better” 7-8 weeks later like doctors said. But I still have discomfort. Comes with certain moves, almost seems to travel a little snd come around the side towards my front. Do you think returning to yoga will help? Maybe stretch stuff out good and help strengthen?

  15. On May 5, 2013 at age 51 I had a solo crash on my sportbike which resulted in 6 broken ribs on my left side, a few inches out from my spine. My ribs seemed to heal normally, and I did no physical therapy. But even now, more than 3 years later when I become physically tired I sometimes feel a warm tingling in that area, followed by a dull burn. It goes away with some rest, so none of this bothers me too much. What bugs me is the other feeling I get often when I twist my torso from one side around to the other. It’s a God-awful cramp in the left side of my chest. It has no specific front or back origin. I can usually make it go away quickly if I bow down, take a big gulp of air, and hold it in for several seconds. But it hurts like a mother and because it’s on the left side it’s scary — inevitably I wonder if I’m having a heart attack. Since I’ve been working out my upper body much more in the last year or so, the tingle/burn thing doesn’t happen as often, but the cramp is still a pretty regular occurrence. I’m guessing I should see a doctor to have my heart checked (rule that out…for good I hope) and then look into physical therapy for the cramp.

  16. Over a 3 year period I broke all my ribs on the left side (maybe more they couldn’t tell after awhile if I had broken some more than once) due, I later found out to Osteopenia. I still get pain occasionally and have a lump, near the bottom of my rib cage is the normal after breaking so my ribs?

  17. I broke my,ribs in 21 pkaces on the keft side of my body. Its 4years kater and somedays they hurt so bad i cant stand it. But my doctor wont listen to me. How do i make her understand its not overwith for me. Im misserable and nothing helps me. No over the counter medicines help me. What do I have to do. ?

    • My husband suffered a flail chest in beginning of December 2016 from a freak accident. All 12 ribs were broken, one even shattered. He had a fixation on the 5th day after the accident. It is now 4 months down the line and still suffers from a lot of pain. Further the rib fractures did not heal. It is a concern. Seems that this will remain for the rest of his life.

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