The sternum or breastbone is the long, flat bone in the center of your chest connecting to your ribs to form the anterior rib cage. It’s one of the longest and largest flat bones in the body and supports the clavicles while protecting the heart and lungs. 

A broken or fractured sternum is one of many chest injuries often sustained in car accidents and other traumatic incidents. While most people do not suffer serious long-term effects, a fractured sternum means a long and painful recovery. You may have minimal use of your arms for months, leaving you unable to work or even care for yourself. 

Here are the symptoms of a fractured sternum you should watch for after an accident and what to expect during your recovery. 

Common Symptoms of a Fractured Sternum

A broken sternum is usually quite painful. You may experience the following symptoms: 

  • Sharp and localized chest pain that’s moderate to severe
  • Pain that worsens with deep breaths, coughing, sneezing, or laughing
  • Pain when moving your arms
  • Tenderness of the sternum when touched or in certain positions
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling or bruising

The pain of a broken sternum may be worse in the morning or when you first get up after resting on your back. Certain movements may also cause sharp pain, like bending forward, pushing or pulling, or lifting your arms over your head. 

Pain during deep breaths, laughing, and coughing happens because the sternum moves with the rib cage during breathing. Moving your arms is painful because this movement uses muscles attached to the sternum.

What Can Cause Sternal Fractures?

Car accidents, falls, and other blunt trauma to the chest or abdomen are responsible for most fractured sternums. About 3% to 7% of all motor vehicle accidents result in a broken sternum. It’s estimated that 60% to 90% of sternal fractures are caused by traffic accidents. 

A broken sternum is one of many features of seat belt syndrome, a collection of common injuries caused by seat belts in a crash. Fractured sternums can also be caused by airbags

In healthy adults, it takes considerable force to fracture the sternum. Some people are at an increased risk of a sternal fracture, especially older adults and particularly women with osteoporosis. 

How Is a Broken Sternum Treated?

Treatment for a sternal fracture depends on the type of fracture and severity. In most cases, rest is the best treatment. In rare cases, surgery is required to treat a broken sternum. Over-the-counter pain medication and ice packs may be recommended to ease pain and swelling. 

On average, it takes about 10 to 11 weeks to recover from a fractured sternum. Most people are fully recovered within a few months. While most sternum fractures heal on their own, there may be complications. Some types of fractures are more likely to lead to complications or long-term consequences. 

There are three parts to the sternum: the manubrium, body, and xiphoid process. The manubrium is the wide, topmost portion. If the manubrium is fractured, it can indicate a very catastrophic injury with other fractures and organ injuries. This type of fracture has a poor prognosis with a higher mortality rate than other sternum fractures. 

A severe injury that fractures the sternum can cause injury to the aorta or bruising of the lungs and heart, known as pulmonary or cardiac contusions. Sometimes, a fractured piece of the sternum can move, which can result in complications. 

If the sternum does not heal properly, it can cause pseudoarthrosis or “false joint.” This causes persistent pain, reduced mobility, and fever and usually requires surgical treatment. 

While recovering, you will likely have restrictions on physical activity for at least several weeks. You may be unable to use your arms for weeks before gradually increasing activity to light movement with no heavy lifting. For some people, pain persists for up to six months or longer. You may deal with prolonged tenderness and deformity in the form of a lump over the sternum. 

You May Be Entitled To Compensation For a Fractured Sternum

If you suffered a broken sternum in an accident caused by a negligent party, you may be entitled to compensation for your pain, suffering, lost wages, and medical bills. Because sternum fractures typically result in a long, painful recovery and weeks of missed work, it’s important to seek experienced legal counsel to pursue the full compensation you deserve.

Consult a Tampa Personal Injury Attorney For Help Recovering Compensation for a Fractured Sternum

For more information, please contact the legal team of Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers for a free initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer. We have four convenient locations in Florida: Clearwater, New Port Richey, and Tampa.

We serve throughout Pinellas County, Hillsborough County, Pasco County, and its surrounding areas:

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Clearwater Office
1811 N. Belcher Road, Suite I-1
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 787-2500

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Congress Ave Office
2360 Congress Avenue
Clearwater, FL 33763
(727) 591-5610

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – Tampa Office
6601 Memorial Hwy Suite 202
Tampa, FL 33615
(813) 686-7588

Roman Austin Personal Injury Lawyers – New Port Richey Office
2515 Seven Springs Blvd.
New Port Richey, FL, 34655
(727) 815-8442