We’ve covered how to treat broken ribs before, but I wanted to take some time and explain how broken ribs affects football players. Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys has a single broken rib, so his play time is limited. You ask, “How can you play NFL football with a broken rib?” Ah, good question.
If you can continue to play football with a broken rib depends on several conditions:
- Is the rib broken or fractured? If the rib is broken clean you’re not going to be able to play. A fractured rib, though, will only cause a slight increase in pain.
- Which rib is broken? If it’s one of the top ribs you need critical care immediately. These have the possibility of causing much more serious damage. The good thing is these almost never break. The middle ribs are the sweet spot for most rib breaks and the ones that do the least amount of damage after the initial problem. When broken, the middle ribs cause pain and some difficulty breathing, but there is usually no risk of causing major injury. The bottom ribs are also troublemakers, since they are located around the diaphragm. If a rib breaks here it can cause a hernia or worse. There is no news on which rib Witten broke.
- Which side is the rib break on? For most players knowing the side of the rib injury can help by wrapping the affected area against more damage. While you might think additional padding cannot help, it can. The extra padding absorbs the trauma and diffuses it against a wider area.
- Is the pain managable? Yep, football players are tough, but they also need to be clearh eaded. If the pain requires narcotics to relieve, you’re not going to be able to play.
The real problem with broken ribs is the inflammation this causes. For a football player this means they are going to have trouble breathing, especially labored breathing. Imagine Jason Witten sprinting to the middle for a pass and then running. Painful. Worse yet, the inflammation affects tendons in your chest, which can then affect your arms. Witten is a tight end, so he needs his arms for blocking, catching and running.
Assuming that the pain is under control and appropriate padding is added, Witten is going to be able to play a limited amount of time. The more he plays he starts playing a game of diminishing return. While he might be able to put up with the pain, his body will understand the situation and cause more inflammation, leading to more stiffness, leading to more pain.
The funny thing about broken ribs is that they have a tendency to affect more than just themselves or localized issues.