Musculoskeletal system

Cracked Sternum: 4 Causes, 6 Symptoms, and 9 Treatments

A cracked sternum is a condition most people are quite unfamiliar with. The word sternum may be considered as jargon by most people. Most people not only have a problem spelling the word sternum, but they also have a difficulty pronouncing it.

The sternum is an elongated vertical bone that is located at the centre of the chest. The sternum bone, together with the 12 ribs forms the anterior part of the chest. The attachment between the sternum and ribs form a cage-like structure that encloses vital organs such as the heart and the lungs.

This enclosure is vital since it insulates the heart, the lungs and other protective tissue from injury occasioned by impact or trauma. Physical harm to the heart or lungs can be severe and can result in loss of life. So how does this affliction come about? Below are some of the causes that bring about a fractured sternum.

Causes of a Cracked Sternum:

cracked sternum
Cracked sternum
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Traumatic Blow:

A traumatic blunt or sharp force blow caused by an object or a person can bring about a cracked sternum. This can happen during incidents such as brawls and also due to moving objects that hit the chest area. Such trauma can cause permanent conditions of impairment or even death in some cases.

Car Accidents:

In case of a car accident, the inertia from the deceleration causes a car occupant to hit their chest either on the steering wheel or on whatever object that lies ahead of them.

This impact can be hazardous since it can lead to a fractured sternum which if left untreated can cause severe complications and possibly death.

The risk of motor vehicle accidents happening is the reason why there is a heavy emphasis on the putting on of seatbelts. A seatbelt will hold you back in your seat and protect you from the jerking caused by inertia.

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Sports Injuries:

Sports injuries are a significant cause of a cracked sternum. Contact sports like rugby, American football, wrestling, soccer, volleyball, and skiing, can lead to a fractured sternum.

It is said that American footballers endure hits that are as severe as several car crashes during a single game. It is no astonishment then that a lot of these athletes go down with injuries such as a broken sternum.

Some athletes even end up paralysed shortly after or during their careers due to the injuries inflicted.

Hard Falls:

A fall from a considerable height can cause a cracked sternum. This is yet another reason to be afraid of heights. People who work in construction sites and cable companies are most vulnerable to this hazard, hence the need to exercise caution when carrying out operations.

Knowledge of the possible causes of a cracked sternum will help you guard against injury and exercise caution in all that you do. But just in case you are already experiencing discomfort occasioned by either blunt force or sharp force trauma, these are the telltale signs that you are ailing from a cracked sternum

Symptoms of a Cracked Sternum:

Spasms in Breast Area:

Since the sternum is attached to the ribcage, they move together in the process of inhalation and exhalation. This movement aggravates the injury causing the worsening of pain while taking deep breaths, coughing, sneezing and laughing.

Pain While Lying Down:

A patient with a cracked sternum will have to try out various sleeping positions to enjoy a peaceful night. This is because certain sleeping positions aggravate the discomfort caused by the cracked sternum, making it difficult for a patient to enjoy a peaceful rest.

Pain with Certain Chest Movements:

A cracked sternum will come in the way of your work out sessions. This is because sudden jerks or movements of the chest will exacerbate the injury caused by the cracked sternum.

Visible Deformity of the Chest:

In some instances, a cracked sternum can bring about an indentation of the chest. This will be visible and easy to identify and diagnose. This deformity could be caused by a bony displacement in the chest area.


A cracked sternum will lead to noticeable swelling in the chest area. The swelling could be mild or severe depending on the severity of the injury caused by the broken sternum.

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Amplified Sensitivity:

A cracked sternum will also cause increased sensitivity in the chest area leading to tenderness when that area is touched, pressed slightly or brushed through.

A fractured sternum is undoubtedly one of the most painful and distressing afflictions that one can suffer from. People who are unfortunate enough to endure this affliction need immediate treatment and care. So what are the remedies available for a cracked sternum?

Treatments for a Cracked Sternum:

Treatment for a cracked sternum injury depends on the severity of the affliction. Some medical remedies can help as well as some home remedies that can help quell the symptoms of a broken sternum. The medical remedies that can be prescribed or administered by a doctor include;


A doctor will most definitely prescribe painkillers to reduce pain and control the swelling. The painkillers will also help in getting rid of pain caused by coexisting injuries that may be caused by trauma. These injuries may include; a collapsed lung, heart contusion and broken ribs.

Anti-inflammatory Medication:

Drugs such as naproxen and ibuprofen are great for relieving pain, inflammation, and swelling. In cases where the pain is quite severe, narcotics may be prescribed to accelerate relief from injury. Narcotics can cause deadly complications though, so the administration of narcotics should be done in minimal doses.

Performing Surgery:

Surgery can also remedy a cracked sternum. Surgery is not necessary in cases of a relatively mild fractured sternum; however, in case of a severely fractured sternum, surgery is essential.

Cases that need surgery are those with severe bone displacement. Surgery will help relocate the bones back to their right location leading to relief and healing. The surgical procedure would involve removing the bone fragments and rejoining the remaining pieces with the help of plates, screws, and pins.


Electrotherapy could also be conducted to cure a cracked sternum since it is also beneficial in the healing process.

Apart from these synthetic remedies, we also have home remedies that can be applied to accelerate the healing process. These include;

Plenty of Rest:

For mild cases of a cracked sternum, taking a break for your usual strenuous activity and lying down in a position that doesn’t aggravate the injury is a sure way of helping the bones heal.

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Cold Compress:

It is advisable to apply a cold press at the spot of the injury within the first 72 hours after sustaining it. A cold press will help to reduce the swelling and quell the inflammation caused by the cracked sternum. The compress should be maintained for at least 10 to 15 minutes at a time every few hours.

With the application of the above remedies whether home remedies or synthetic remedies depending on the severity of the injury, the patient should feel relieved after some time. With the symptoms gone, a patient needs to engage in various exercises that help speed up the process of total recovery.

The exercises should always be conducted with the guidance and supervision of a doctor or physiotherapist. These exercises are categorised into three;

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Shoulder blade squeeze exercises
  • Rotation while sitting exercises
Deep Breathing Exercises for Cracked Sternum:
  • This exercise involves four steps;
  • You need to sit down or stand with your back straight
  • Attempt to breathe in as deep as you possibly can without aggravating the symptoms
  • Focus on breathing using the lower lungs
  • Do not raise your shoulders, and be sure to expand your stomach to avoid exacerbating the injury gently
  • Patients who suffer from a broken sternum should carry out this exercise in 5 reps three times a day.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze Exercise for a Cracked Sternum:

This exercise involves the following steps;

  • You need to sit down or stand with your back upright
  • Try to squeeze your shoulder blades as close together as you possibly can without hurting yourself and aggravating the injury
  • The shoulder blade squeeze should be held for a few seconds
  • Repeat this exercise daily; do 10 reps about three times a day
Rotation While Sitting down Exercises:

This exercise involves the following steps;

  • Sit in an upright position and fold arms across your chest
  • Keep your legs still
  • Try to rotate your midsection as much as you can without aggravating your injury which could lead to further complications
  • Keep rotating for a couple of seconds, 10 to 15 seconds would be good enough
  • Do this exercise daily without fail in 10 reps three times a day

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