A sternal fracture is a cracked or broken sternum often caused by trauma -- commonly seen in vehicle accidents when the steering wheel hits the driver's chest. The sternum, or breast bone, is the long vertical bone in the center of the chest. It is attached to the ribs, forming a protective enclosure for vital organs and tissue, including the heart and lungs. A diagnosis is typically made with chest X-ray or CT scan. The sternum will often heal on its own; however rest, medication and cold compresses also aid in healing. In some cases, this injury may be seen on visual examination. Seek immediate medical attention if you suspect you have a sternum fracture.
Pain and Tenderness
Sternum fracture often causes chest pain and spasms in the center of the chest. Moving, coughing, sneezing or breathing heavily may exacerbate the pain. The area around the sternum, the midline of the chest, may be painful to touch. The area may begin to swell and have bruising. Damage to internal organs may also occur.
You may experience difficulty breathing with a fractured sternum. Breathing heavily may cause pain or an uncomfortable pressure. Difficulty breathing alone is not a symptom indicating a broken sternum. A chest X-ray and other symptoms signifying a sternal fracture has occurred are necessary to make a conclusive diagnosis.
Deformed Chest Area
Blunt force trauma often causes the sternum to break. The chest area may visibly be deformed indicating a sternum fracture has occurred. This injury may cause a bend or indentation of the chest that can be seen or felt.