The sternum is the flat bone located in the middle of the chest (also called the breastbone).
The upper part of the sternum supports the collarbone (clavicle), and the cartilage of your first seven ribs is attached to the margins of your breastbone.
Your sternum has parts (the body, the manubrium, and the xiphoid process) and acts as a shield protecting the vital organs of your chest cavity—the lungs, the heart—and blood vessels.
So what happens when it gets hurt?A bruised sternum or a cracked sternum (1) is often the result of a forceful impact to the breastbone, usually caused by something like a car accident. This is also called a sternum contusion.
Signs and Symptoms of a Bruised Sternum
As mentioned, a severe blow to the chest can cause your sternum to feel bruised. Although breastbone pain can be severe, it’s also possible to escape the situation with only a mild bruised sternum. Want to know how to tell if you have a bruised sternum? A number of key signs and symptoms accompany the condition, including the following:
- Tenderness at the front of the chest;
- Pain in the breastbone when moving or breathing;
- Prolonged chest pain (it may last for weeks);
- Sharp pain when laughing or coughing; and
- Bruised skin around the breastbone.
What Are the Causes of a Bruised Sternum?
The following are three of the most common causes associated with a bruised or cracked sternum:
1. Car Accident
A bruised sternum can result from car accidents in which the drivers fail to wear seat belts, because the chest and thorax will slam directly into the steering wheel. The impact can be so severe that it will not only bruise the sternum, but also injure internal organs or break bones.
But that said, wearing a seatbelt can also lead to a bruised sternum, as the force of the seatbelt preventing you from moving forward can lead to bruising. Saving your life is, of course, worth some bruising and discomfort.
2. Hacking Cough
A hacking or whooping cough can be so violent that it can bruise the sternum. The forceful nature of the coughing puts pressure on the chest plate, and if the coughing continues for a long time, the sternum can eventually bruise.
3. Sports Injury
Certain sports are violent by nature, including boxing, rugby, hockey, and football. The impact experienced in these sports increases the risk of bruising around the body, and a bruised sternum can be especially common when protective gear isn’t worn.
Natural Treatments for a Bruised Sternum
In severe cases of a bruised sternum, your doctor may recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen. NSAIDs will help reduce swelling and pain associated with your breastbone injury. Your doctor may also suggest micro-current therapy to reduce pain and to repair damaged tissues. Micro-current therapy exposes the breastbone to a small electrical current.
Since the body’s electrical field is damaged from the traumatic injury, the micro-current device is designed to correct that electrical field. There are also a number of natural treatments and remedies for a bruised sternum (2), including the following:
1. Cold Compress
It’s a good idea to rub a cold compress along your bruised sternum for five to 10 minutes, three times daily to help reduce swelling and pain. Ice should never be applied directly to the skin. Wrap the ice in a piece of cloth to create a cold compress.
2. Eat a Healthy Diet
A nutrient-rich diet is necessary to help promote faster bone healing. Vitamin C is important to reduce inflammation, while vitamin K can help heal bone bruises through the regulation of blood clotting.
Foods high in both nutrients include parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, and romaine lettuce. Leafy greens in general will promote bone density. Fruit high in vitamin C includes lemon juice, strawberries, and cantaloupe.
3. Avoid Certain Foods
There are also certain foods that should be avoided to help your bruised breastbone heal. It’s best to eliminate processed foods from the diet, including refined grains, carbonated drinks such as sodas, and foods high in sugar.
Processed sugar will promote inflammation and make it harder for your bones to heal, and the high salt in many processed foods is also linked with bone loss. Alcohol and caffeine may also contribute to bone loss.
4. Low-Impact Exercise
What is the proper protocol when working out with a bruised sternum? Exercise with a bruised sternum can be performed once your symptoms begin to subside. At this time, exercise should be low-impact and non-weight-bearing, such as swimming, walking, or biking. This should reduce any stiffness associated with your injury.
Homeopathic remedies can also help for sternum bruises caused by an injury. Arnica montana is often the first remedy used for a bruised sternum after the initial shock from a car accident or sports injury. Aconite can then be given for the fear from the bruise. Other effective remedies for a bruised sternum include ledum, rhus toxicodendron, bellis, calendula, and symphytum.
6. Bone-Promoting Nutrients
There are several nutrients that support bone health, including calcium and magnesium. For starters, bone is primarily made of calcium phosphate. Magnesium is then required for the proper metabolism of calcium through vitamin D activation and parathyroid hormone production.
There are also studies which show that essential fatty acids improve calcium absorption. Other nutrients important for bone health include zinc, manganese, strontium, and silicon.
Bromelain is an enzyme with natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce swelling from a bruised sternum. Though it’s commonly found in papaya and pineapple, bromelain is considered far more effective in supplement form. The recommended dosage is 500 to 2,000 milligrams of bromelain twice daily between meals to help reduce inflammation.
Boron is another great mineral for bone health, as it works in combination with calcium to build bones. It’s also necessary to help fight blood clotting when the body is healing from bruises. Boron is also known to activate vitamin D3, which is another important nutrient for bone health. It’s recommended to take three to five milligrams daily to help heal from bone bruises.
9. Other Remedies
Other natural remedies that can reduce the inflammation from a breastbone bruise include lysine, frankincense, comfrey, bilberry, arnica oil, and calendula.
Final Thoughts on Breast Bone Trauma
The aftermath of a sports injury or car accident can be difficult to handle. Although a bruised sternum is likely not a long-term problem, there are many ways to help speed the healing process. The following are a few key points to remember during the healing process:
Avoid or quit smoking:
Smoking or secondhand smoke can weaken bones and decrease the rate of bone healing. Quitting smoking may be hard, but it’s also a solid preventative strategy in reducing the severity of a breastbone injury.
Recovery time varies:
Everyone is different, so we all heal at different speeds. It’s important to take time to heal and get plenty of rest. Athletes in particular should not return to playing before being properly cleared by a medical professional.
Natural remedies can certainly speed up the healing process, including homeopathy, calcium and magnesium, and bromelain.