Bruised Sternum

Facts about a Bruised Sternum


A common injury for drivers that do not wear their seat belts is a bruised sternum. It can also happen to those individuals participating in certain sports activities where blunt force contact may occur.  There will be no doubt in recognizing the effects of this injury, which can be extremely painful.


The chest area acts as a protective shield for the essential organs container within; the heart and the lungs.  The sentries on the defensive against harm to these organs are the ribs, which encircle the chest from back to front.  The ribs begin from the backbone and travel around to the front of the trunk.  They connect in the front of the chest; not to each other but rather to a flat piece of bone in the midsection, to form a “cage” of sorts to prohibit the heart, lungs as well as several major blood vessels from being damaged. 

The flat piece of bone is called the sternum, and while it is all in one piece, it is actually considered to have 3 distinct parts.  The top part is called the manubrim, which connects the top two ribs.  The body is the central portion of the sternum, connecting the third rib through the seventh rib in a direct fashion while indirectly connecting the eighth through the tenth ribs.  The tip at the bottom of the sternum is called the xiphoid process; a piece of the sternum that is actually cartilage for years, until later in adulthood it develops into a bony consistency.


Without the sternum, the rib cage would not be complete.  An empty space would exist in the front of the chest, allowing any blow to the chest to affect the heart and lungs; likely causing death in most circumstances.  The ribs would also have no anchor to hold them in place in the event of any jarring or jolts.  This rather small piece of bone plays an extremely important function in the human body. 


Injuries that are known to occur to this area include a bruised sternum and a fractured sternum.  These conditions are caused when a blow to the chest is received, such as in sports of football, soccer and others when two opposing forces collide with force.  An injury to the chest is also more likely for drivers of motor vehicles that include a steering wheel.  An accident propels the driver forward, especially in cases when the seat belt is not securely fastened, bringing the chest area in direct and crushing contact with the steering wheel.  Even something as simple as a fall can produce the bruising when the chest is hit by some blunt force object.  

Symptoms of a sternum that has been injured will be swelling, bruising, tenderness and pain when moving, breathing, laughing, coughing as well as any other activity that requires movement of the chest.  In short, the individual will likely be in near continuous pain for up to four weeks as the sternum heals.  Since breathing is a necessity, the area will always be called into action although many people resort to taking short breaths in attempts to alleviate the pain.  As severe symptoms can create other disorders and even infections due to shallow breathing, a doctor should always be consulted when any injury to the sternum has occurred. 


Treating the bruised sternum may include rest, icing the area, taking anti-inflammatory medications and taking pain medications.  In addition, the doctor may wish to have a chest x-ray to accurately determine the damage that has been done to the rib cage.


Pain in the center of the chest immediately following an accident could very well indicate an injury to the sternum.  Consulting a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis will help to get the individual on the healing path.