Why CPR is Important

Before diving into the nitty-gritty, it’s vital to understand the importance of CPR. It’s a procedure designed to manually pump blood through the heart when it fails to do so. By pushing down on the chest and giving rescue breaths, one can potentially save a life, especially in situations where every second counts.

Common accidents involved when performing CPR.

While CPR is a vital life-saving technique, there are potential complications and accidents that can occur during its administration. Apart from rib fractures, here are three other common accidents or complications associated with performing CPR:

  1. Sternum Fractures: Just like the ribs, the sternum (or breastbone) is also subjected to force during chest compressions. Although less common than rib fractures, the sternum can be fractured if compressions are too forceful or not positioned correctly. A fractured sternum can pose additional complications as it’s centrally located and close to vital organs.
  2. Lung Injuries: When chest compressions are performed, there is a possibility of causing lung injuries such as pneumothorax (presence of air or gas in the cavity between the lungs and the chest wall, causing the lung to collapse) or hemothorax (a collection of blood in the space between the chest wall and the lung). These can result from direct trauma or from fractured ribs piercing the lung tissue.
  3. Gastric Inflation: This is a complication related to the rescue breaths part of CPR, rather than the compressions. If the air is delivered too forcefully or too rapidly during mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it can enter the stomach instead of the lungs. This gastric inflation can cause vomiting, which poses a risk of aspiration – where the vomit is inhaled into the lungs. Aspiration can lead to serious lung complications.

It’s important to note that while these complications can occur, the immediate need to restore circulation and oxygen flow to the brain and vital organs during a cardiac arrest outweighs the risks of potential injuries. Proper training and technique can help reduce the likelihood of these complications.

The Reality of Rib Fractures

Now, back to the pressing question – how often do ribs break during CPR? It’s more common than many might believe. The force required to adequately compress the chest can sometimes lead to broken or fractured ribs. Especially in elderly individuals, where bones may be more fragile, the risk of such injuries increases.

Studies have shown that up to 30% of patients who receive CPR can experience some form of rib fracture. It’s an alarming statistic, but it’s important to put this number in perspective.

Understanding the Dynamics

When administering CPR, compressing the chest at least 2 inches deep is recommended for adults to effectively pump the heart. This forceful compression, while necessary, places significant strain on the ribcage, increasing the likelihood of fractures.

However, the focus is on effective chest compressions and not the potential side effects. The ultimate aim is to restore blood flow and maintain oxygen delivery to the brain. If the choice is between potential rib fractures and a saved life, medical professionals would advocate for the latter.

Image alt text: how often do ribs break during CPR.

Author credit: By Mrnave – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26261334

Technique Matters

While the chances of rib injuries are there, correct technique can make a difference. The center of the chest, right above the sternum, is the recommended compression point. Deviating from this can increase the likelihood of causing injury. Hence, proper training and regular refreshers on CPR techniques are crucial for anyone willing to perform CPR.

5 Commonly Asked Questions

  1. Is a rib fracture life-threatening?

Typically, no. Most rib fractures will heal on their own, although they can be painful. However, multiple fractures can lead to complications.

  1. Does a rib fracture indicate that CPR was performed incorrectly?

Not necessarily. Even with proper technique, ribs can break due to the force needed for effective CPR.

  1. Should I avoid giving CPR fearing rib injuries?

Absolutely not. The potential of saving a life outweighs the risk of causing rib fractures.

  1. How can I ensure I’m giving CPR correctly?

Regular training and practice under certified professionals can ensure you’re up to date with the best techniques.

  1. Are there alternatives to traditional CPR that minimize rib injury?

While there are devices that aid in CPR, manual chest compressions remain the most widely taught and used method. Proper technique is the best way to minimize risks.


To wrap things up, while the question of how often do ribs break during CPR might seem alarming, it’s crucial to see the bigger picture.

CPR is a life-saving measure, and the priority is always to save the life at hand. Rib fractures, although unfortunate, are a small price to pay for a potentially saved life.

The emphasis, thus, should be on proper training and ensuring that when faced with an emergency, one can provide the best assistance possible. Remember, when it comes to CPR, effectiveness and timely action are paramount.