What if Ribs Break During CPR?

TL;DR: Cardiac arrest affects 436,000 Americans annually, mostly in public spaces, but only 40.2% receive bystander CPR. A common fear is causing harm, like breaking ribs, which can happen due to the force needed for effective compressions. Despite this, rib fractures should not deter you from performing CPR, as saving a life is the priority. Understanding why ribs break and knowing how to recognize and handle such injuries can boost your confidence in providing CPR. Proper training and regular recertification can help minimize the risk of fractures and ensure you perform CPR correctly.

One of the most common reasons for performing CPR is witnessing someone in cardiac arrest. It affects around 436,000 Americans annually and mostly happens in public spaces, yet only 40.2% of these individuals receive CPR from bystanders. A significant reason for this reluctance to help is the fear of causing additional harm, such as breaking the victim’s ribs.

While this concern is understandable, it’s essential to know that rib fractures can be a normal part of performing CPR. The fear of causing such injuries should never deter you from taking action. So, what if ribs break during CPR? Knowing the answer is essential for anyone who might find themselves in a position to save a life.

In this article, we’ll look at why ribs break during CPR and what steps to take if this happens. Understanding these aspects can boost your confidence and readiness to perform CPR, allowing you to provide the necessary help without hesitation or fear.

Why Do Ribs Break During CPR

Rib fractures can be a normal side-effect of high-quality CPR, and we must understand why this happens. CPR requires significant physical force to be effective. Chest compressions must be deep and forceful enough to pump the blood manually through the body. This force, while life-saving, can sometimes cause ribs to crack.

Also, the rib cage consists of a series of bones connected by cartilage. During CPR, the pressure applied to the center of the chest can exceed what these bones and cartilage can withstand, leading to fractures. It’s a delicate balance between ensuring compressions are deep enough to circulate blood and minimizing the risk of injury.

What Contributes To Rib Fractures During CPR

Several factors influence whether a person’s ribs might crack during CPR. Besides the necessary force to compress the chest, other contributing factors are:

    • Age: The elderly are particularly susceptible to rib fractures during CPR. With increasing age, bone density decreases, and the bones become more brittle. This brittleness makes the ribs more likely to crack under the pressure of chest compressions. Age-related changes also affect the cartilage and ligaments, making them less flexible and more prone to injury.

    • Bone Density: Individuals with conditions like osteoporosis or other bone-related issues have a higher chance of suffering fractures during CPR. The bones turn weak because of these conditions, becoming more susceptible to breaking under the force required for effective chest compressions. 

    • Gender: Some studies suggest that women are more likely to sustain bone fractures to the sternum during CPR compared to men. This difference is partly due to bone structure and density variations between genders. Women’s bones can be less dense than men’s, making them more vulnerable to fractures when subjected to the force of chest compressions.

How Often Does It Happen

Studies show that rib fractures occur in about 55% of resuscitation cases. These odds can increase if the person performing chest compressions lacks proper training. Proper technique reduces the risk of injury, but even with the best training, rib fractures can still happen due to the nature of the resuscitation method.

Despite the possibility of causing a rib fracture, the decision to perform CPR should always be clear. The primary goal is to save a life. Fear of breaking a rib should not deter you from administering CPR when necessary.

How To Recognize Broken Ribs During CPR

During CPR administration, it can be challenging to notice if ribs break, especially if you lack the proper training. Despite this, it’s important to stay aware of certain cues that might indicate rib fractures, including:

    • Cracking Sounds (Crepitus): If you hear a distinct cracking or popping noise when you apply chest compressions, it may indicate a broken rib. This noise occurs because of the friction between the broken rib ends. While this can be alarming, it doesn’t mean you should stop CPR.

    • Excessive Motion: When performing chest compressions, the chest should move in a controlled and predictable manner. If you notice any unusual or excessive movement, it might signal that a rib has fractured. This movement is often due to the loss of structural integrity in the rib cage, making the chest more pliable than normal.

    • Rapid Swelling or Bruising: If you notice that the area you’re compressing begins to swell or bruise quickly, it might indicate internal damage, such as a broken rib. That can result from the trauma of compressions, causing blood and other fluids to accumulate in the injured area.

What To Do Next

Regardless of whether you suspect broken ribs, you must continue CPR until the victim regains consciousness or emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrive. Regardless, the priority is to continue chest compressions so the oxygen can keep circulating in the victim’s body.

When EMTs arrive, inform them that you suspect the victim’s ribs might be broken. This information will allow them to take the appropriate steps for further medical care. They can then assess the situation more thoroughly and give the victim the necessary treatment for any injuries sustained during CPR.

Legal Liability Of Broken Ribs During CPR

If you perform CPR on someone and break their ribs in the process, you usually have nothing to fear legally. Florida’s Good Samaritan Act protects bystanders who provide emergency aid in good faith and don’t expect any reward for their actions. That means you’re legally protected as long as you’re genuinely trying to help and doing your best.

The law recognizes that quick and decisive action can save lives during medical emergencies like SCA, even if it results in unintended injuries like broken ribs. So, you don’t have to worry about legal repercussions if your intentions are pure and you’re acting with reasonable care.

Reducing the Possibility of Breaking Ribs During CPR

While the possibility of fracturing ribs during CPR is high, you can take concrete steps to make that less likely. By following proper techniques and guidelines, you can reduce this risk. You must know the anatomy, use the correct placement of hands, and maintain the right rate and depth of compressions. You can learn all that and more by attending CPR classes.

Attend CPR Training Classes

In these classes, you’ll learn the proper chest compression technique and the force needed during CPR. A certified CPR instructor will guide you through the process, ensuring you understand the mechanics and rationale behind each step.

You’ll have the opportunity to practice on manikins, providing you with a realistic simulation of CPR on a human body. This hands-on practice is invaluable because it gives you a good sense of what effective CPR feels like. The combination of theoretical knowledge and practical experience will teach you how to perform CPR correctly, minimizing the risk of rib fractures.

Get Regular Recertification

CPR certification is only valid for two years because CPR methods are constantly updated and improved based on the latest research and medical advancements. Attending regular renewal classes keeps you up-to-date with the most effective techniques.

These classes will refresh your memory and introduce you to any new guidelines or procedures. Staying current with your certification means you’re better prepared to perform CPR accurately, with minimal chance of further complications for the victim.

Become CPR Proficient in Jacksonville, Florida

Broken ribs are a real risk during CPR, but they shouldn’t deter you from performing it. Even if you hear or feel a rib break, you must continue with the resuscitation efforts until the victim regains consciousness or emergency services arrive.

Knowing the proper techniques can minimize the risk of causing additional injuries. Attend CPR classes in Jacksonville, Florida, and learn the correct CPR methods through hands-on practice. Schedule a class today to increase your confidence and competence in a real-life situation!