What If Ribs Break During CPR?

What if ribs break during CPR?

The aim of this article is to address the fact that in the medical world, there appears to exist a lot of fear when it comes to delivering CPR from laypeople when in the absence of emergency medical personnel. This is based on the risk of doing more damage to the patient than good. 

One of the common questions which arise in those difficult situations is: What if ribs break during CPR practice? Unfortunately, it is likely to happen more often than you might think.

In particular, this article will answer this question for general interest by introducing you to the warning signs of breaking ribs during chest compressions. This way, you will realize the importance of proper CPR practice when you attempt to revive the victim by not inflicting further damage.

To put it in simpler words, we will give you instructions on the steps you need to take after you are certain that a rib was broken during CPR. This way, you will know how to respond to a real-life emergency situation in the future. In addition, we will guide you through the usual risks of rib fractures when we deliver CPR and show you results to see how common this is. 

What Should You Do Before Performing CPR?

The well-established knowledge of CPR is that it may be performed by anyone who feels competent to help in a public place. Whether you are a trained CPR person or a healthcare provider, you can reduce (or increase) the risk of developing the condition which causes the heart to suddenly stop beating.

The first and foremost step in this situation is to call 911. Regardless of where you might find yourself in this situation, you should not hesitate to call 911 immediately. Whether it is at home with a relative or at your workplace while sitting next to your colleague, if you see them having a cardiac arrest, you should act immediately but remain in a calm state.

This is also advised by the American Heart Association (AHA), which introduces to you further steps of the CPR practice. Also, when waiting for the ambulance to come, you can speak to the emergency department to help you through your CPR performance. However, it is commonly known that when a person’s pulse is gone, the best place to start is CPR. This is not only applied to a cardiac arrest but if necessary, it can also be implemented to a victim who has a stroke or a heart attack.  

Fractured Rib As a Preferable Outcome Of CPR

However, as we established above, breaking a rib during your chest compressions is possible. Or in other words, when a patient is having a cardiac arrest, and you do CPR on them, if you hear a cracking sound beneath your hands, it still does not mean that you have fractured their ribs entirely. 

When this happens, it is usually the cartilage in the breast bone but not the ribs themselves. However, the ribs may also break, and this can frighten the respondent while they are performing CPR. Even if this disturbing event appears, you are still advised to continue with the chest compressions regardless of whether you sense this as wrong or hear a crack. 

The cause of skeletal injury is certainly not a pleasant one, but it is still a more favorable outcome than a person who stops breathing and most likely dies. In this way, you can improve their breathing before the ambulance comes for further resuscitation.

In other words, don`t stop doing CPR on a patient even if their ribs break. Don’t be afraid of helping a person in need because Good Samaritan laws throughout the country protect bystanders who perform CPR.

In addition, the person whose ribs were broken is not likely to sue you for saving their life by breaking their ribs. However, if the victim does not approve of the way you performed your act upon them, they can technically take you to a court of law. Whether they win the case is very questionable. 

Broken Ribs Caused by CPR – Common or Rare?

It is established in the medical facility that chest compressions should be done at a depth of approximately 2 inches (5.08 cm) in order for CPR to be effective. If the compressions don’t achieve the required depth, it is unlikely their performance will increase blood circulation around the body. A significant amount of strength is needed to reach the desired distance. 

Putting force into this practice increases the possibility of breaking a rib during CPR. It is no wonder why, then, the risk of injury is more common due to the size and strength of the individual performing CPR. That is why most chest injuries during CPR are associated with male first respondents because their upper body muscles generally use more force than the woman’s body.

In the medical world, it is established that 70% of patients during CPR have either rib fractures or bone breaks. However, a study on Resuscitation shows that this percentage is actually much higher. 

The study analyzed autopsy data from 2,148 patients who were delivered CPR, and the results have concluded the following:

  •  86% of men and 91% of women appeared to have a skeletal injury.
  •  59% of the men and 79% of the women had breast bone fractures.
  •  77% of the men and 85% of the women had broken ribs
  •  33% of the men and 12% of the women had sternocostal separations.

It is transparent from the statistics taken from the study that women are more prone to chest injuries than men. Also, older people tend to have more injuries than younger patients.

These statistics can either be a warning sign for justified fear of CPR performance or that breaking the ribs as a common injury is preferable to death. This is a less common outcome if you are properly trained on how to provide high-quality CPR correctly. A skilled learned from a trusted CPR Class. Hence, the risk of injuring someone in the process may be lowered when you are a competent respondent.


If you have found yourself in a situation where CPR practice is necessary for a patient`s improvement, call 911 dispatcher for further guidance. During the compressions, if you hear a crack sound in the chest and sense that you have fractured the person’s ribs, don`t stop CPR. It is crucial to continue in those moments in good faith and attempt to revive a person’s life.

It is a common ethical principle to feel obliged to help a person in cardiac arrest by CPR, even if you may break ribs. However, this is true only when the injury increases the possibility of a successful outcome. Always be well prepared for CPR implementation on a person in need, and keep in mind every possible outcome of your early action, even though it is in good faith.