A bruised sternum is caused by direct trauma, or impact to the sternum bone in the middle of the chest. In more severe cases, a fracture may occur, or dislocation of the sternoclavicular joint. Here we explain the symptoms, causes and treatment for sternum injuries.
A bruised sternum, or sternum contusion as it is also known, occurs after an impact to the sternum or breastbone. This most frequently occurs after road traffic accidents, although collision sports and those with hard balls or rackets etc can also impact the sternum.
Symptoms of a bruised sternum
- Symptoms include pain on the breastbone following impact.
- You will feel tenderness at the front of the chest over the bone and breathing may be painful.
- Coughing and sneezing are also likely to reproduce pain and bruising may appear later.
Treatment for a bruised sternum
If the pain is severe seek medical attention as soon as possible. A doctor will perform a full examination and may order X-rays which can confirm that there are no fractures to the sternum or the ribs. Treatment of a bruised sternum requires rest for 2-4 weeks to allow the bone to heal. Ice and anti-inflammatory medication may be advised by the doctor to help ease pain and inflammation.
A sternum fracture is a break to the breastbone. A sternal fracture is most often caused by a direct impact to the bone, at the front of the chest.
This is most frequent in road traffic accidents. There will be sharp chest pain at the front of the body and bruising may appear. The injury will need to be assessed and monitored to ensure no further damage is made.
Sternum fracture symptoms
- Symptoms of a fractured sternum include a sudden onset of pain at the front of the chest after an impact or fall of some kind.
- Pain is usually well localised and does not radiate.
- It will be very tender to touch the fracture area and bruising may start to appear after a few hours.
- Up to 20% of patients may demonstrate breathing difficulties.
Fractured sternums most frequently occur during road traffic accidents. A fractured sternum may also occur during chest compression as performed during CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Fractures of the breastbone may also happen with considerably less force and have been seen in golfers and weightlifters previously. Older people with Osteoporosis may also be more at risk.
Whilst a fracture is a common injury which is often straightforward to treat, a sternal fracture should be examined thoroughly and put under observation for other complications. These may include pulmonary and cardiac contusions (bruising of the lungs or heart) or damage to the aorta (main artery from the heart). If the fractured part of the bone has been displaced, this is more likely to cause further complications.
Treatment of a sternum fracture which has not been displaced generally involves rest and the use of painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications.
If the bone fragment has become displaced, a surgical procedure may be required to re-align the two bone pieces and possibly fix them with pins or screws.