The Painful Recovery from a Broken Sternum

Our Blog | August 24, 2018

After a car accident, it may take you a minute to realize how badly you are hurt. The noise and confusion may keep you from noticing your injuries right away. But soon, you may feel pain in your chest and have trouble breathing. You might be afraid you are having a heart attack.

Those symptoms can mean you have a broken sternum. The sternum (or breastbone) is the long flat bone in your chest that connects each side of your rib cage. It protects your heart and lungs from injury. This is why a broken sternum can be dangerous.

Driver with a broken sternum after a car accident

How bad is a sternum fracture?

When you breathe, your sternum moves. You probably don’t even notice it. But if your sternum is broken, every breath can be painful. It will hurt when you cough and when you laugh. You might not have a lot to laugh about after a car accident. However, coughing is a natural way to keep fluid and contaminants out of your lungs. If you can’t cough, there is a risk of pneumonia and other serious infections.

With a broken sternum, you may not be able to move your arms well or do any lifting without pain. It can be painful or impossible to get dressed, cook meals or do your normal activities. It may also make it impossible for you to return to your job.

How will doctors treat my broken sternum?

The typical treatment for a broken breastbone is rest. Your doctor will probably tell you to keep ice on the injury and take pain medication, and avoid strenuous activity or lifting anything. In rare cases, surgery may be required to wire a cracked sternum or reconnect the rib cage.

You will want to be aware of any signs of infection in your lungs, such as:

  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood when you spit or cough

Also, if your pain is not better after about eight weeks, you should contact your doctor again. When your sternum is feeling better, you may need physical therapy to regain strength in your arms and shoulders.

How long will I be recovering?

For most people, it takes about 10 weeks for a full recovery. Some take as long as 12 weeks before they are able to move and lift things without pain. This amount of time off work is likely a hardship, especially if you have medical bills from your injuries.

If your accident was caused by someone else’s carelessness, you have a right to pursue legal action. You are entitled to seek compensation for your medical expenses and lost wages, plus damages such as pain and suffering. If you have questions about your legal options, contact us. Our personal injury attorneys in Sacramento can help.