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What Are the Treatments for a Broken Sternum?

author image Sharon Perkins
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.
What Are the Treatments for a Broken Sternum?
Two doctors examining X-Rays. Photo Credit: Dario Lo Presti/iStock/Getty Images

Fractures of the sternum -- the bone that attaches to the first seven ribs to you collar bone -- occur most frequently from blunt trauma. The majority of these fractures are caused by motor vehicle accidents. Treatment of sternal fractures depend on the severity of the break.

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Rest and activity restriction may suffice for treating minor breaks or cracks in the sternum. Average recovery time for sternal fractures is 2 to 3 months. During that time, all aggravating activities should be avoided. Ice may be applied for 20 minutes every 2 hours for the first 3 days following injury to reduce pain and swelling.

Pain Medications

Pain can limit respiratory efforts, including deep breathing and coughing, which increases your chance of developing pneumonia. Pain can also occur due to concurrent injuries such as broken ribs, collapsed lung, or heart contusions. For uncomplicated sternal fracture, anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen are often sufficient for pain control. If narcotics are required, the smallest effective dose should be taken for the shortest amount of time possible, to avoid respiratory depression.

Surgical Repair

Surgical repair may be necessary if the bones move out of place, particularly if you have difficulty breathing. The need for continued ventilator support or severe pain may also indicate the need for surgery. Bone fragments may be removed, and the remaining pieces may be joined together with wires or a plate secured with screws.

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