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March 30, 2011 / elodie kaye

Cracked Rib

Out of the couple hundred bones in the human body, I feel pretty smart to have fractured an especially convenient one.  I broke the second rib at the left front; it’s less sensitive to expansion of the diaphragm than some of the lower ones, and from its relatively high position on the torso, it can be better protected from the impact of foot strike.  Coughing, sneezing, or giggling feels like a knife twisting for home to the heart, but in the spectrum of possible injuries, it’s giving me much less heartache than any I’ve had from the waist down.

Fractured ribs can take anywhere from 6-8 weeks to heal completely, but I can look forward to less pain over the next 3 weeks.  Ribs can’t be set, and unless the bone is out of alignment there’s no intervention while it heals.  In my case, the fracture is supported by lots of muscles around the chest and shoulders, too.  This is both good and bad.  It’s good for healing the rib in its correct position, but affects how much strength I can exert with my left arm and shoulder.  Attempting a push-up for example, makes my eyes water.

The best part about a cracked rib is that you can do virtually nothing to help or hurt the healing process.  This will infuriate control freaks, but as a reformed one, it’s awesome.  There’s no physical therapy exercises to do, no worries about lingering muscle imbalances that could bite you later.  I find it surprisingly liberating to know that simple pain will protect my rib from my own folly.

Even with twice the recommended dose of NSAID on the label (but still 30% less than what’s allowed under my prescription), inflating my lungs to their fullest extent hurts, and when it hurts with every breath, you either slow down or stop running.  The simplicity of it is beautiful.  Pounding hard with your heel, forefoot, or whatever, it doesn’t matter — all kinds of hard foot strikes hurt.  You learn to do what it takes to mitigate that impact with the muscles in your feet, legs, and hips, or stop running.  You learn to do these things in a matter of a few minutes, refine them continuously while running, and remember those lessons for the next day.  The prospect of pain sharpens the mind — I’ve discovered powers of retention that rival an elephant’s.  I was only half-joking when I wrote once that a cracked rib might be the best training tool to happen to me.

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