Everything UVA fans want to know about ribs, but were afraid to ask


UVA Football fans are thinking a lot about ribs these days, and not the kind that come slathered in barbecue.

Brennan Armstrong suffered an apparent rib injury in the fourth quarter of the 66-49 loss at BYU last weekend. I say apparent, because we don’t know officially what his status was, is, will be, because Bronco Mendenhall runs a famously tight ship in that respect, and also because it’s a bye week, and so the normal radio silence from Virginia Athletics has been turned up to 11.

Sneak preview time: this week’s “Jerry Ratcliffe Show” podcast features Dr. David Diduch, an orthopedic surgeon who has been working with UVA Football for more than 20 years.

For obvious reasons, he couldn’t discuss any specifics of any interactions he may have had involving Armstrong.

But he could talk about rib injuries, in general.

“The first thing we always make sure of is that there’s not a punctured lung associated with a rib fracture,” Diduch said. “If the ribs are actually cracked, sometimes they have sharp edges, and they can puncture the lining of the lung, and then that allows air to seep in, and actually it kind of breaks the seal so that you can’t expand the lungs and breathe properly and get very short of breath. And, and so just as a matter of protocol, somebody gets rid of injury like that, we’re going to get some X-rays, and make sure they don’t have a punctured lung before they get on an airplane. That could be life-threatening. At altitude where the air pressure changes, it could make the punctured lung dramatically worse. So that’s a routine that any team would do before boarding a plane to travel.”

So, X-rays after a guy has an apparent rib injury, standard procedure.

Next question: how long does it take to heal from a rib injury?

“It’s rare to have a player out for the period of time that it fully takes a rib injury to heal,” Diduch said. “I mean, that would take, to be fully healed, easy, three months, certainly between two and three months. And that, you just don’t see that. So, the vast majority of people are coming back, and it varies, a week, three weeks, five weeks, it really depends on how many ribs are broken, where they are, and how much it hurts, and that’s more of an individual thing.

A rib injury doesn’t fully heal for two or three months.

Most athletes are back as quickly as a week.

Next question: is that safe?

“Every breath you take, especially if you’re exerting yourself and breathing deeply and straining, it’s really putting a lot of pressure and strain on those muscles, and it can be very sore,” Diduch said. “So, the first step is, are they safe? Was there any damage underneath the ribs? And then if not, then it’s a question of, how sore are they? Can they stand up to more contact, and is it safe to do that?

“So, you might imagine, sometimes there’s a cracked rib, and the edges are really sharp, and they’re kind of pointing the wrong direction, and you say, well, that’s not smart to play with, that’s just too risky,” Diduch said. “Other times the edges are not so sharp, or the rib isn’t really displaced or sit in the cartilage part, and those things are perhaps a more safe situation, we’re not as worried about it becoming a punctured lung or something. And then it’s a matter of just how uncomfortable they are.

“The vast majority of rib fractures or rib injuries fall into that latter category where it’s OK, it’s probably safe once they can go,” Diduch said. “We try to do what we can to help players be more comfortable and protected. You certainly can use flak jackets, you can use padding, you can use taping, but there’s still going to be contact, I mean, it’d be from opposing players, or just player to ground, there’s going to be contact, and they’ve got to have a chance to test it out. You can’t really wait until game day to figure that one out. But that that’s really what it comes down to.”

So, it’s safe, and really just a matter of how much pain you can withstand.

Which is easy for those of us whose ribs aren’t hurting and aren’t getting hit in a football game to try to point out.

Anything else?

“I will say that, in general, the higher up the rib injury, the often the more painful it is just because it affects the breathing so much. And the lower down they are, the less painful they tend to be. So that’s one thing we see in general terms,” Diduch said.

It’s OK for you to go back to the video to try to sleuth the location. I’m not offended.


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