What is Chest Wall Pain?
Injuries to the chest (also known as the thoracic area) can be minor or major. While minor injuries may include bruising or the feeling that the “wind” has been knocked out of you, more severe trauma means blunt or penetrating injuries to the chest wall, lungs, airways, heart, and other anatomy contained within the chest. Serious injuries may cause disability or even death.
Specific examples of thoracic trauma include rib fractures, sternal fractures, pulmonary contusions (bruising of the lung), pulmonary lacerations (punctures of the lung), tears in the airway, ruptured blood vessels, cardiac arrest, and injury to the diaphragm. Diseases of the heart, lungs, and esophagus can cause further types of injuries to the anatomy of the chest.
Causes of Chest Injuries
Diagnosis of penetrating chest injuries is often easier due to the nature of such conditions. Blunt and minor injuries, however, may require a number of diagnostic tests to determine the exact cause, including X-ray, CT scan (computerized tomography), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or bone scan.
Rib fractures are among the most common thoracic injuries, with patients often reporting the cause as a car accident, fall, severe cough, or sports-related incident. According to Oregon Health & Science University, roughly 300,000 Americans per year are diagnosed with rib fractures.
People who play sports frequently, have been diagnosed with cancerous rib lesions, or are affected by osteoporosis are at a higher risk for rib fractures and breaks. Usually there are no visual signs that a person has fractured his or her rib, but symptoms will include severe pain in the chest that worsens during breathing or coughing, or when pressure is applied. A broken rib is a much more severe condition than a fractured rib, as pieces of broken rib could potentially puncture blood vessels or organs, such as the lungs.
Treatment for Chest Injuries
The Mayo Clinic reports that most fractured ribs will heal on their own in about six weeks if an appropriate at-home care treatment plan is followed. This includes over-the-counter drugs (such as Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, Advil, naproxen, Motrin, Aleve). Depending on the severity of the pain, your physician may also prescribe stronger pain medications, or even nerve blocks, which involve injections of anesthesia near the nerves that are sending pain signals.
While chest injuries typically heal on their own it is important to discuss your pain and discomfort with your specialists. They may be able to prescribe additional pain relievers or offer other treatments that will speed up your recovery process.