Lessons from a broken rib

These ribs are way better broken than mine.

So I recently broke a rib (maybe two?). I was engaged in mortal combat with a friend who, in addition to being a nimble and ruthless jiu-jitsu buff, makes some comfy professional shoes for those who prefer the “barefoot” feel. After an evening of combat, I found myself with a rib that hurt every time I took a deep breath.

[***If you’d like to watch the video version of this story, click here.***]

It’s slowly getting better, but it’s taught me/reminded me of a couple important lessons about my body (and, by extension, yours).

1) Everything really is connected to everything. I can’t even do a bodyweight push up at this point. Even something as apparently easy as twisting to slide the closet door open causes pain. Folding over to tie my shoes or pick something up was terrible for the first week. Lifting my arms overhead to grab a cup from the cupboard even yanks on the ribs. I am continuously surprised by what little motions elicit a wince, but in a perverse way I enjoy it, because I get to mentally review my anatomy to understand what chain of muscle contractions is causing a yank on the ribs from a variety of body positions.

2) Targeted exercise is really necessary. I can’t lift any serious (serious for me, anyway) weight right now in the gym. Even holding dumbbells at my side irritates the ribs. So when I look at the things I do with my body on a daily basis now, it’s easy to see how starved for motion my arms, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen, butt, legs, etc. can get. Yeah, I’m at a standing desk typing this, but my arms are still locked in t-rex position, and I’m only very minimally “exercising” my body by fidgeting which is just not enough to stimulate muscles to even maintain a base level of strength. I’m literally wasting away! Will I even be able to get up out of a chair when this is all over?!?! (Answer: Yes. I’ve found ways to continue doing semi-challenging hip workouts that don’t get me huffing and puffing too badly.)


Where’s my laptop? (photo by brainlesssteel via Flickr)

3) Breathing is really important. From mayoclinic.com’s entry on broken ribs:

“Adequate pain control is important, so you can continue to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications, such as pneumonia.”

Suffice it to say that I am breathing deeply (like a boss!) even if it isn’t the most pleasant feeling. So when you can take good breaths without pain, enjoy each and every one!

A lot of people have asked if I’m doing anything to help speed the healing along. Beyond keeping my lungs from collapsing and making sure I stretch my chest and shoulders open, all I can do is play the waiting game.


About the Author

Matt Hsu is a trainer and orthopedic massage therapist. He fought a long battle with chronic pain all over his body and won. He blends the principles he learned in his journey, empirical observations with clients, and relevant research to help others get their lives back.