Anybody who has broken a rib will know how painful it can be and there is no magic cure apart from rest and time. But is the same true of horses? Can they be mended? And what is the long-term prognosis?

Surgery is only necessary for the most severe breaks, where the fractured sharp ends of the ribs are displaced inwards and have the potential to lacerate and damage the lungs.

In these cases ultrasound and X-rays should be aimed at calculating ways to stabilise the fractures so that there is no further damage to the lung.

If the lung has been damaged then a life-threatening collapsed lung (pneumothorax) may develop.

There are two methods of stabilising broken ribs.

First, anchoring support (external coaptation) can be achieved by placing stainless steel wires around the ribs and attaching them to a cast surrounding the rib cage.

Second, internal fixation can be achieved by repairing the fractured ribs individually using small bone plates, thick nylon suture or stainless steel wire fixation.

Both these techniques have good results, but self-healing is often the preferred option.

For the full veterinary article on broken ribs, see the current issue of Horse & Hound (9 June, 2011)