RBG’s Broken Ribs: Why Is Breaking Bones Dangerous for Older Adults?

RBG's Broken Ribs: Why Is Breaking Bones Dangerous for Older Adults?
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

RBG’s Broken Ribs: Why Is Breaking Bones Dangerous for Older Adults?

Your ribs play vast and important role in your body, because it support many of the muscles in your upper body. As a result, breaking a rib can make everyday activities very painful.

According to The New York Times Report Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in the hospital after falling and breaking three ribs, according to news reports. But why are broken bones and other fall-related injuries so worrisome for older adults?

Ginsburg, who is 85, fell in her office on Wednesday night (Nov. 7), She went home afterward, but felt discomfort and was admitted to the hospital Thursday morning, the Times reported. Doctors found she had broken three ribs on her left side.

Sustaining healthy bones is extremely important. Minerals are incorporated into your bones during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood. Once you reach 30 years of age, you have achieved peak bone mass.

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If not enough bone mass is created during this time or bone loss occurs later in life, you have an increased risk of developing fragile bones that break easily.

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A study from Denmark published earlier this year found that broken bones can increase the risk of death up to 25 percent over a one-year period among older adults, and this risk remains high for up to 10 years after the injury.

For example, it’s not uncommon for older adults with broken bones to need surgery to treat the fracture. And “any surgery with anesthesia is going to create a new challenge for elderly patients,”. Surgery puts stress on the heart, which may be problematic for older adults with heart conditions.

In addition, surgery and the broken bone itself will lead to older adults being less mobile, or bedridden, which can result in complications. Such complications include pressure sores from staying in bed, or deconditioning that could make someone even more frail and prone to injury.

What are the symptoms of broken Bones/ribs?

Bone injuries are common. In the United States, more than 1 million people a year fracture a bone.

  • One of the most persistent symptoms of a broken rib is chest pain when taking a breath. Inhaling deeply hurts. Laughing, coughing, or sneezing can also send sharp pains shooting from the site of the break.
  • Depending on the location of the fracture, bending over or twisting your upper body may also trigger sudden pain. Striking or pressing on the fracture will cause pain for at least several weeks.
  • You may also notice swelling and redness around the break. In some cases, you might also see bruising on the skin near the break.

What causes a broken bone/rib?

As the protectors of your heart and lungs, your ribs are designed to withstand a lot. But sudden and severe blows to the chest and back can fracture them.

A fracture occurs when a bone is struck by something stronger than the bone itself. This causes it to break. Car accidents, sports injuries, and falls are common causes of fractures.

Repeated wear on a bone, such as from running, can also cause small fractures.

Years of repetitive actions, such as a swinging a golf club, may also take a serious toll on your ribs and muscles. Trauma caused by repeating the same forceful motions can make you more susceptible to breaking a rib.

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Those most at risk for broken ribs include:

  • Athletes who play contact sports or engage in frequent repetitive motions involving the chest or back.
  • People with osteoporosis, a disease that reduces bone density, leaving bones more vulnerable to fractures people with a rib that has a cancerous lesion, which can weaken the bone.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

  • Your doctor will examine you and check the area of the injury for mobility, and for possible damage to blood vessels or joints. Most fractures are diagnosed using an X-ray of the affected bone.
  • Sometimes other tests besides X-rays may be needed to determine the extent of the fracture and associated damage.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a bone scan can show more details if the fracture is small. An MRI can also show the soft tissue area around the bone, and may indicate injuries to surrounding muscles or tendons.
  • A computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) can be used to provide a three-dimensional image in horizontal or vertical slices of the affected area. This will show more of the detail of the fracture. Your doctor may also inject a dye into your arteries and then do a scan. The dye can make it easier for your doctor to identify damage to blood vessels.
  • Your doctor will also ask how the injury occurred, when the pain started, and whether the pain has been getting worse. This will help your doctor decide whether to check for additional complications, such as a disruption of blood flow.

Can broken bones/ribs be fast treated?

The treatment for a fracture depends on the type of injury, the location of the injury, and its severity.

Treating broken ribs has changed in recent years. Doctors used to treat a fractured rib by wrapping the torso tightly to help keep the affected rib from moving. But this type of bandaging can restrict your breathing and occasionally lead to respiratory problems, including pneumonia.

Today, broken ribs are usually left to heal on their own without any supportive devices or bandages. New bone tissue forms at the edges of the break to “knit” the broken pieces together. The new bone is soft at first, and so it needs to be protected.

You can also apply an ice pack to the area to reduce pain and decrease swelling. Just make sure you wrap it in a thin towel first.

If possible, try to sleep in a more upright position for the first few nights after the injury.
Very serious rib fractures, such as those that make breathing difficult, may require surgery. In some cases, this may involve using plates and screws to stabilize the ribs while they heal.

The benefits of having surgery with plates and screws typically include shorter healing time and less pain than leaving the ribs to heal on their own.

How many months will it take your fracture to heal?

On average, fractures heal in six to eight weeks. Children usually heal faster than adults.

The healing time depends on the location and severity of the break. Your age and general health will also affect your recovery time. Follow your doctor’s advice for caring for the fracture to improve the healing process.

The pain usually stops before the fracture has fully healed, but it’s important to keep protecting the injured area until it has healed completely. You may have a physical therapy program and exercises designed to build up muscle strength and joint flexibility in the injured area.

What can you do to prevent bone/ribs fractures?

  • Keeping your bones healthy is important at every age. This means getting enough calcium from your diet and doing weight-bearing exercises to keep your bones strong. Weak bones break more easily. After age 40, everyone begins to lose bone mass. Your genetic makeup determines your peak bone mass, but diet and exercise make a big difference in keeping your bones healthy as you age.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that both men and women over the age of 40 have:

  • 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day.
  • 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D every day.
  • If you are a woman and have gone through menopause, you should increase your calcium to 1,200 milligrams a day. This is because hormonal changes decrease bone strength, which can lead to osteoporosis and increased risk for fractures.

There are also some things you can do to prevent falls and reduce your risk for bone fractures:

  • Wear sensible shoes.
  • Minimize clutter around the house.
  • Make sure that wires, cords, and other hazards are out of the way to prevent tripping.
  • Have adequate lighting and place nightlights in the bathroom or other rooms you may have to access in the middle of the night.
  • Secure rugs with no-slip pads.
  • Get physical therapy to help improve your balance. Take a balance training course, chair yoga, or tai chi.
  • Use a cane or walker if needed.

    Natural ways to build your bones?

    1. Eat Lots of Vegetables

    Vegetables are great for your bones. They’re one of the best sources of vitamin C, which stimulates the production of bone-forming cells. In addition, some studies suggest that vitamin C’s antioxidant effects may protect bone cells from damage.

    A high intake of green and yellow vegetables has been linked to increased bone mineralization during childhood and the maintenance of bone mass in young adults.

    Eating lots of vegetables has also been found to benefit older women. A study in women over 50 found those who consumed onions most frequently had a 20% lower risk of osteoporosis, compared to women who rarely ate them.

    One major risk factor for osteoporosis in older adults is increased bone turnover, or the process of breaking down and forming new bone. In a three-month study, women who consumed more than nine servings of broccoli, cabbage, parsley or other plants high in bone-protective antioxidants had a decrease in bone turnover.

    In summary, consuming a diet high in vegetables has been shown to help create healthy bones during childhood and protect bone mass in young adults and older women.

    2. Perform Strength Training and Weight-Bearing Exercises

    Engaging in specific types of exercise can help you build and maintain strong bones.
    One of the best types of activity for bone health is weight-bearing or high-impact exercise, which promotes the formation of new bone.

    Studies in older men and women who performed weight-bearing exercise showed increases in bone mineral density, bone strength and bone size, as well as reductions in markers of bone turnover and inflammation.

    Strength-training exercise is not only beneficial for increasing muscle mass. It may also help protect against bone loss in younger and older women, including those with osteoporosis, osteopenia or breast cancer.

    One study in men with low bone mass found that although both resistance training and weight-bearing exercise increased bone density in several areas of the body, only resistance training had this effect in the hip.

    3. Eat High-Calcium Foods

    Calcium is the most important mineral for bone health, and it’s the main mineral found in your bones. Because old bone cells are constantly broken down and replaced by new ones, it’s important to consume calcium daily to protect bone structure and strength.

    However, the amount of calcium your body actually absorbs can vary greatly. If you eat a meal containing more than 500 mg of calcium, your body will absorb much less of it than if you consume a lower amount.

    Calcium is the main mineral found in bones and must be consumed every day to protect bone health. Spreading your calcium intake throughout the day will optimize absorption.

    4. Get Plenty of Vitamin D and Vitamin K

    Vitamin D and vitamin K are extremely important for building strong bones. Vitamin D plays several roles in bone health, including helping your body absorb calcium. Achieving a blood level of at least 30 ng/ml (75 nmol/l) is recommended for protecting against osteopenia, osteoporosis and other bone diseases.

    Indeed, studies have shown that children and adults with low vitamin D levels tend to have lower bone density and are more at risk for bone loss than people who get enough.

    You may be able to get enough vitamin D through sun exposure and food sources such as fatty fish, liver and cheese. However, many people need to supplement with up to 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily to maintain optimal levels.

    Getting adequate amounts of vitamins D and K2 from food or supplements may help protect bone health.

    5. Maintain a Stable, Healthy Weight

    Eating a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight can help support bone health.

    Some studies suggest that being obese can impair bone quality and increase the risk of fractures due to the stress of excess weight.

    While weight loss typically results in some bone loss, it is usually less pronounced in obese individuals than normal-weight individuals.

    One study found that bone loss during weight loss was not reversed when weight was regained, which suggests that repeated cycles of losing and gaining weight may lead to significant bone loss over a person’s lifetime.

    Being too thin or too heavy can negatively affect bone health. Furthermore, maintaining a stable weight, rather than repeatedly losing and regaining it, can help preserve bone density.

    6. Consume Foods High in Magnesium and Zinc

    Calcium isn’t the only mineral that’s important for bone health. Several others also play a role, including magnesium and zinc.

    Magnesium plays a key role in converting vitamin D into the active form that promotes calcium absorption.

    Although magnesium is found in small amounts in most foods, there are only a few excellent food sources. Supplementing with magnesium glycinate, citrate or carbonate may be beneficial.

    Studies have shown that zinc supplements support bone growth in children and the maintenance of bone density in older adults.

    Zinc is a trace mineral needed in very small amounts. It helps make up the mineral portion of your bones.

    7. Consume Enough Protein

    Getting enough protein is important for healthy bones. In fact, about 50% of bone is made of protein.

    Researchers have reported that low protein intake decreases calcium absorption and may also affect rates of bone formation and breakdown.

    studies have found that this doesn’t occur in people who consume up to 100 grams of protein daily, as long as this is balanced with plenty of plant foods and adequate calcium intake.

    A low protein intake can lead to bone loss, while a high protein intake can help protect bone health during aging and weight loss.

    The bottom line, bone health is important at all stages of life. Most broken ribs resolve within six weeks. You’ll need to take it easy during this time, If you find that the pain isn’t getting any better, see a doctor to rule out any additional injuries that could be causing your symptoms.