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What can Cause a Fractured Sternum?

M.C. Huguelet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The sternum is a flat, downward-pointing bone that joins the ribs at the center of the chest, forming part of the bony enclosure known as the ribcage that protects the lungs and heart. A fractured sternum typically results from a solid blow to the chest, often one which has occurred during a car accident. While it can be difficult to treat a fractured sternum, usually the injury will gradually heal without medical intervention. As a fractured sternum can leave the heart and lungs vulnerable to injury, however, physicians will often perform tests on those who have broken this bone to ensure that the organs within the ribcage have not been damaged.

Any firm blow to the chest area can potentially cause a fractured sternum. The injury may occur during a collision while playing a contact sport, for instance. It could also occur if the chest strikes an object or the ground during a fall.

Perhaps the most common cause of sternum fracture, however, is car accident. A car’s driver may suffer a broken sternum if his chest strikes the steering wheel during an accident. Drivers who do not wear a seat belt face an especially high risk of being thrust into the steering wheel in an accident. Somewhat paradoxically, the force of a seat belt against the chest during a collision can also cause a fractured sternum in both drivers and passengers. It should be noted, however, that the benefits of seat belt usage are generally thought to outweigh such potential consequences.

Due to its internal location, the sternum is difficult to immobilize, making it challenging to treat a fracture of this bone. Mild to moderate sternum fractures will usually mend themselves over time, however. During the healing period, over-the-counter or prescription-strength painkillers may be used to manage discomfort in the affected area. Sternums which have been very severely broken or shattered may require surgical correction to prevent injury to nearby organs.

A fractured sternum presents a double threat to the lungs and the heart, which are contained within the ribcage. First of all, these organs can become bruised, scraped, or punctured during the breakage itself. Secondly, a sternum which has been broken may not be able to provide adequate protection to the lungs and heart. Therefore, physicians who suspect a sternum fracture may order imaging tests such as x-rays to ensure that the injured individual’s lungs or heart have not been damaged.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
M.C. Huguelet
By M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide range of publications, including The Health Board. With degrees in Writing and English, she brings a unique perspective and a commitment to clean, precise copy that resonates with readers. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On May 31, 2013

@donasmrs-- Of course it's possible, especially if you let the weights down on your chest!

Did you have a chest injury previously? If you fractured your sternum in the past, you're more likely to fracture it again.

If you feel pain, you need to see a doctor and you need rest. Don't do anything physically demanding until you are completely healed.

By donasmrs — On May 30, 2013

Is it possible to fracture the breast bone while doing bench presses?

I developed a constant pain in my breast bone since doing bench presses. I'm worried that I damaged it.

By bluedolphin — On May 30, 2013

My husband works in construction and fell down the second floor of the construction two weeks ago. He fractured his sternum and also his knee. Thankfully the sternum fracture is not serious. His organs weren't damaged and so the only treatment he needs is rest.

This incident made us both realize how amazing our bodies are. It's only been two weeks, and his chest pain is almost completely gone. The doctor said that minor fractures usually bind back together in several weeks. He's probably going to be ready to go back to work next month.

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet
Cate Huguelet, a Chicago-based freelance writer with a passion for storytelling, crafts engaging content for a wide...
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