Rib fractures vary in intensity and the time it takes to heal. A single cracked rib from coughing takes less time to heal compared to multiple rib fractures, or even when a lung or spleen is punctured.
Pain from a single rib fracture is felt intermittently on a specific movement, whereas multiple broken ribs’ pain is felt on deep breathing giving you in constant symptoms. However pain is a poor indicator if your rib is broken, a through clinical evaluation can be much more insightful. You’ll notice a sudden sharp pain with big movements or coughs and or just a dull ache throughout the day.
Bruising over your ribcage, with sensitive areas on specific points, are not as alarming as rib pain with deep breathing. This is more serious when you’re feeling breathless, only breathing shallowly, or bracing with your breathing to avoid the pain.
With some rib fractures, only after exertion you can bring on the rib pain. This is a good sign, unless accompanied by rapid heart rate spikes and drop in saturation. This cardiovascular adaption happens automatically to provide your body with enough oxygen as the lungs are compromised.
Different broken rib scenarios
A single cracked rib remains quite stable. Like a hoop earring with a single opening. Movement causes pain, but the bones remain aligned because of the integrity of the rest of your chest wall.
A flail chest is when three or more neighbouring ribs are fractured in two or more places, resulting in instability. Essentially there are free-floating segments that are not anchored to the rest of the chest wall. This is more painful than a single cracked rib as every breath causes movement at the site of the rib fracture. Parodixial breathing may indicate a flail chest, where the opposite of what you expect happens during the breathing cycle. On inhalation a flail chest moves in and on exhalation the chest moves out. The impact pierces the lung and compromises oxygen getting in.
A pneumothorax results from the lung tissue being penetrated, blood and air filling up the plural cavity bettn the lung and the inside wall of your chest, limiting the lung to expand. Difficulty breathing, increased heart rate and decreased oxygenation are the symptoms of a lung that cannot fill.