What If Ribs Break During CPR?

TL;DR: Despite the fear of breaking ribs, CPR remains crucial during cardiac arrest, with up to 450,000 Americans affected annually. Understanding CPR mechanics and benefits outweighing risks, such as rib fractures, underscores its importance. With proper training and legal protections like Good Samaritan Laws, individuals can confidently administer CPR, saving lives while minimizing potential harm.

Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death across the US, affecting up to 450,000 Americans each year. Despite this staggering number, only about 40.2% of SCA victims receive CPR from bystanders.

A considerable barrier deterring people from stepping in to help is a lack of confidence in their CPR skills coupled with the fear of harming the victim. Among those concerns is the risk of breaking ribs during the administration of CPR. This worry keeps many from performing life-saving chest compressions despite their willingness to help.

Understanding the mechanics and importance of CPR can help demystify this life-saving procedure and answer the question, “What if ribs break during CPR?”. While the prospect of breaking ribs is a concern, the immediate need to support a person in cardiac arrest by maintaining blood flow to vital organs takes precedence. Let’s see why the benefits of performing CPR outweigh the risks associated with potential rib fractures.

The Reality of Ribs Breaking During CPR

When performing CPR, the goal is to mimic the heart’s function by applying a forceful rhythm to the chest. You aim to compress the heart between the sternum and the spine to pump blood to vital organs. This action requires significant force, often more than people anticipate. The sternum must depress at least two inches in adults to be effective, and sometimes, the ribs crack.

Rib fractures during CPR depend on several factors, such as age, overall health, and gender. Older people are more susceptible to fractures during CPR because they have more brittle bones due to age-related changes in bone composition.

Similarly, individuals with underlying health conditions that affect bone density, like osteoporosis, face a higher risk of experiencing rib fractures during CPR. Gender plays a role as well – women are more likely to suffer from rib cage injuries during CPR than men, possibly due to differences in bone density and the structure of the chest.

Frequency of This Occurrence

Despite the concerns surrounding rib fractures, it’s important to note that such injuries during CPR are relatively rare, but they do occur. Some studies indicate that rib fractures happen in approximately 55% of resuscitation cases.

While this statistic might seem alarming, breaking ribs is an unfortunate but normal side effect of effective CPR. The primary goal during such a critical situation is to revive the person in distress, which sometimes means doing strong chest compressions.

The Immediate Response to Broken Ribs During CPR

While administering CPR, noticing a victim’s ribs breaking might not be easy due to the urgency and stress of the moment. However, a few tell-tale signs suggest a rib might have broken.

    • Clicking or grinding sounds: A sign to look out for is a clicking or grinding sound emanating from the chest area with each compression. That suggests that the bones might be moving abnormally.

    • Decreased chest rise: This signals that the ribs aren’t supporting the necessary movement for adequate air exchange.

    • New bruising or swelling: The appearance of bruising or swelling in the rib area is a visual clue of a possible fracture. These signs develop as blood and fluids accumulate in the tissue surrounding the broken rib.

Continuing CPR After a Rib Breaks

If you suspect or confirm a rib has broken during CPR, you should still focus on continuing the life-saving procedure. Maintain proper hand placement – at the center of the chest, between the nipples – to minimize the risk of further injury. Do not stop CPR! The priority is to support blood circulation and oxygen delivery to vital organs.

Adjust your force if necessary, but remember, effective chest compressions require sufficient depth to be beneficial. After the ambulance arrives, inform medical professionals about the potential rib injury so they can provide the necessary care.

The Medical Perspective on Broken Ribs from CPR

Although broken ribs may seem significant, it’s important to remember that the consequences of not performing CPR outweigh the risk of causing such injuries. While broken ribs are painful and require medical attention, victims can heal from them. The same can’t be said about irreversible damage or death that can result from a lack of immediate CPR intervention.

Short-Term Complications

Pain is the most immediate concern, often requiring medication and sometimes even affecting breathing. There’s also a risk of internal injury, such as puncturing or damaging internal organs with those broken bones. Despite these risks, the benefits of performing CPR in a critical moment far surpass the potential for these injuries. While no one wishes to cause harm, these minor injuries are a much-preferred outcome over the potential loss of life due to inaction.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

It’s worth noting that Tennessee has Good Samaritan Laws to protect bystanders performing CPR. That means if you perform CPR to the best of your ability, you have protection from legal liability should the person sustain injuries like broken ribs in the process. The law recognizes the importance of immediate action in these situations and supports those willing to help, emphasizing the value of life-saving efforts over the concern for accidental injuries.

How to Minimize the Risk of Injury During CPR

To avoid causing further harm during CPR, you must pay attention to how you perform each step. Starting with hand placement, position your hands correctly on the chest of the person in need. Your dominant hand should go on top of the other, and you should use the heel of your bottom hand to apply pressure.

This technique helps you apply force more evenly and reduces the chance of causing harm. Also, keep your elbows straight and shoulders directly above your hands to push straight down, lessening the risk of injury.

Aim for chest compressions at least two inches deep for adults, but not more than 2.4 inches. Compressing too shallowly may not be effective, and pushing too hard can increase the risk of injury.

CPR Training and Certification

Attending CPR classes will help you provide life-saving assistance without inadvertently causing injury. By enrolling in courses offered by reputable, certified organizations, you will get the knowledge and hands-on experience necessary to do CPR techniques correctly.

These classes cover everything from the correct hand placement and depth of compressions to the timing of breaths, reducing the risk of harm to the person in need. More importantly, these sessions prepare you to act confidently and calmly so your interventions are safe and effective.

Find CPR Classes in Nashville, Tennessee

Understanding that ribs might break during CPR can be unsettling, but it’s a reality that sometimes occurs due to the nature and urgency of the intervention. This fact should never deter anyone from taking action in a medical emergency.

The benefits of immediate CPR outweigh the risks, including the possibility of broken ribs. The best approach is to get proper CPR training to help reduce the likelihood of causing injury while performing CPR. Enrolling in classes equips you with the proper CPR techniques and knowledge. It ensures you apply the correct force and understand the most effective ways to administer chest compressions.

Be prepared and confident in your ability to perform CPR – call us today and make a difference in someone’s life.