Does CPR Break Ribs?

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) is a crucial life-saving technique used to restore blood circulation and breathing in individuals experiencing cardiac arrest or respiratory failure. While the primary goal of CPR is to save lives, it's not uncommon for people to wonder about the potential risks and side effects of this intervention. One of the questions frequently asked is whether CPR can break ribs. In this blog post, we will delve into this topic to provide a better understanding of the relationship between CPR and rib fractures.

The Mechanics of CPR

Before we explore the possibility of rib fractures during CPR, it's essential to understand the mechanics of this life-saving procedure. CPR consists of two main components:

1. Chest Compressions

Chest compressions involve the application of rhythmic pressure to the chest of an unresponsive individual. The aim is to manually pump the heart, which can help maintain blood circulation when the heart has stopped beating effectively. Proper chest compressions require the rescuer to press down hard and deep on the chest, typically at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.

2. Rescue Breaths (optional)

In traditional CPR, rescue breaths, also known as mouth-to-mouth ventilations, are administered after a cycle of chest compressions. The purpose of rescue breaths is to provide oxygen to the victim's lungs and help oxygenate the bloodstream. However, many CPR guidelines now emphasize hands-only CPR, which involves chest compressions alone, eliminating the need for rescue breaths.

Rib Fractures During CPR

Rib fractures during CPR can occur, and they are more common than you might think. The reason behind this is the force required to effectively compress the chest and pump blood through the heart. When a rescuer pushes hard and deep on the chest during CPR, there is a risk of causing rib fractures.

Several factors contribute to the risk of rib fractures during CPR:

1. Age and Fragility

The risk of rib fractures tends to increase with age, as bones become more fragile and susceptible to breaking. Older individuals, especially those with preexisting medical conditions that weaken their bones, are more prone to rib fractures during CPR.

2. Compressions Depth

Effective chest compressions require a depth of at least 2 inches (5 centimeters) for adults. Achieving this depth can sometimes result in the cracking or fracturing of ribs. However, it's essential to prioritize the quality of compressions over concerns about rib fractures, as the primary goal of CPR is to save the individual's life.

3. Proper Technique

Proper technique is crucial to minimize the risk of rib fractures during CPR. Rescuers should ensure their hands are positioned correctly on the lower half of the victim's sternum (breastbone) and that they are using the heel of the hand to compress the chest. This technique helps distribute the force more evenly and reduces the risk of concentrating pressure on a specific rib.

Why Rib Fractures, Though Unfortunate, Are Acceptable

While rib fractures during CPR are an unfortunate consequence, they are considered an acceptable trade-off for the potential benefit of saving a life. It's important to remember that cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition, and the immediate initiation of CPR can significantly increase the chances of survival.

Here's why rib fractures are acceptable in the context of CPR:

1. Prioritizing Blood Circulation

The primary objective of CPR is to maintain blood circulation to vital organs, especially the brain. When the heart is not pumping effectively, oxygenated blood is not reaching the brain, which can lead to irreversible brain damage or death. Rib fractures, while painful, are a secondary concern compared to the urgency of restoring blood circulation.

2. Chances of Survival

Cardiac arrest survival rates improve significantly when CPR is initiated promptly and performed effectively. The risk of rib fractures is a small price to pay for the opportunity to save a life. Moreover, medical professionals can address rib fractures and other injuries once the individual's heart has been restarted or stabilized.

Reducing the Risk of Rib Fractures

While rib fractures may be an inevitable consequence of effective CPR, there are steps that rescuers can take to minimize this risk:

1. Use Proper Technique

Rescuers should ensure they are using the correct hand placement and technique for chest compressions. This includes pressing hard and deep on the lower half of the victim's sternum with the heel of the hand.

2. Monitor Compressions

Monitoring the depth and rate of chest compressions is crucial during CPR. Too shallow or too rapid compressions may be less effective and increase the risk of rib fractures.

3. Consider Alternative Methods

In certain situations, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be used to deliver electrical shocks to the heart, potentially eliminating the need for manual chest compressions. AEDs are designed to provide controlled and consistent compressions.


In the context of CPR, rib fractures are an unfortunate but acceptable risk. The priority during cardiac arrest is to restore blood circulation and provide the best chance of survival. Rib fractures occur due to the force required to perform effective chest compressions, and they are more likely in older individuals or those with fragile bones. Rescuers can reduce the risk by using proper technique and monitoring compressions.

Ultimately, when faced with a situation requiring CPR, the focus should be on taking immediate action to save a life. Rib fractures, though concerning, are secondary to the primary goal of maintaining blood circulation and oxygenation. In the world of life-saving interventions, the benefits of CPR far outweigh the risks of rib fractures.

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