The sternum is a long, flat bone located at the front of the chest. It consists of three parts – the manubrium, the body, and the xiphoid process. Its upper part supports the clavicles, and on the side it articulates with the cartilages of the ribs 1.
One of the main roles of the sternum (along with the entire thorax) is to protect the organs within the chest cavity – heart, lungs and the major blood vessels (among others) which is why these bones are so strong.
The main cause of pain and a bruised sternum is a direct blow to the area. We will be covering causes in more detail later on, but the most common ones are high-speed collisions or blows while playing a contact sport.
Generally, bruised sternum is nothing to be concerned about, and the pain will go away on its own; however, there are some things you can do to make it less painful and shorten the healing time. Keep on reading and you will find out what.
What Causes A Bruised Sternum?
I already stated that a bruised sternum is most commonly caused by a direct blow, so there is a wide range of activities which can lead to it. For the sake of this article, we decided to divide all these injuries into several groups:
1. High Speed Collisions
I can already hear you asking whether or not seat belt has anything to do with this. Of course it does, and both situations can lead to bruised, or otherwise injured sternum:
- Wearing a seat belt – of course, you should be wearing your seat belt when driving, but you must also know that, during these collisions the seat belt “wants” to stop you from moving forward. The amount of force your seat belt exhibited to keep you in place is often times enough to cause bruising on your sternum… but it will save your life so it is a small price to pay!
- Not wearing your seat belt – when you hit a car in front of you without wearing a seat belt, you might get launched forward and slam your thorax directly onto the steering wheel. The force with which you slam into your steering wheel can be so severe that it will even break your bones, injure internal organs, not to mention bruise your sternum.
2. Playing Sport
Most authors focus on contact sports when talking about chest pains and injuries, but the truth is you can bruise your sternum just as easily while playing soccer, for instance. These moves and “techniques” are severely sanctioned, but I sometimes see them on “lower profile games,” when the referee is not looking.
Of course, sports that are more violent in nature (such as football or hockey), require wearing protective gear simply because there is a lot more “allowed” contact.
3. Whooping Coug
This type of a cough is especially common in children and it can be so violent that it can actually cause bruises on the sternum. Rather than describing it, I`ve decided to share one video with you. It is a video where the doctors explain all the major types of a cough, and Whooping a cough is the very first one they cover:
Most Common Symptoms Of Bruised Sternum
I know that most people hate visiting their doctor, but this is really the first and the best advice I can give you. Yes, you should educate yourself, read articles and find out more about your body, but the doctor will know best. Besides, if you do not address these symptoms and deal with them properly, they might lead to more severe, longer-lasting pain so there is really no need to delay your visit to the doctor.
Some of the most common symptoms of a bruised sternum are:
- Pain – which can be divided into these categories:
- Pain when moving
- Bending over
- Breathing or
- Bruising around the breast bone area
- Tenderness to touch
- Localized swelling
- Long-lasting pain – lasting more than couple weeks
- Pain when doing bench presses
Since this injury is, in most cases, not that severe, it will fully heal in up to 4 weeks. Of course, during these 4 weeks you should avoid movement that further aggravates your condition and pay close attention to what your doctor said!
Treating Bruised Sternum At Home
Of course, I can`t expect you to just sit at home and do nothing for 4 weeks, but you should at least try to limit activities that make your pain worse! Luckily for you, there are some common practices you can adopt to make yourself more comfortable and relieve pain.
Icing will help with both relieving pain and reducing the swelling; you can either rub it along the bone itself or apply across the entire bone (if you have enough ice). Of course, you can grab any old frozen food (bag of frozen vegetables is preferred) and apply it for up to 10 minutes, 3-4 times a day.
You should not, however, apply it directly to the skin, always try to wrap it in a piece of cloth in order to avoid direct contact between the ice and your skin.
2. Anti-inflammatory medication
As the name suggests, these medication are designed to reduce inflammation, and basically address the problems caused by these inflammations, such as:
- Redness and
- Increased temperature
3. Lifestyle changes
Making some changes to your daily routine is a must, if you want to relieve pain and discomfort and heal your bruised sternum. Obviously, you should avoid any heavy lifting, involvement in most sport activities (especially contact sports), repetitive movement that irritates your injury, bending over or coughing.
4. Changing your diet
No, changing your diet is not only necessary when you are trying to lose weight! Doctors will often recommend slight changes in your diet (especially if your diet is poor to start with). in order to promote faster healing.
Eating enough fresh fruits and veggies will give you the nutrient boost you need to cut down the healing time of your bruised sternum. Also, remember to hydrate yourself!
- (1912.) Gray H. Anatomy of the human body
- Image credits: Sternum composition” by Anatomography