Tony Romo’s broken rib and punctured lung need time to heal

The Dallas Cowboys may be pushing Tony Romo(notes) back into the game too soon. Romo fractured his rib and punctured a lung on Sept. 18 during his third-down pass attempt. Although he missed practice on Sept. 22, coach Jason Garrett decided to put him back into the game on Sept. 26 against the Washington Redskins.

Tony Romo.
Wikimedia Commons

The Injuries

A CT scan on Sept. 22 revealed that Tony Romo's fractured rib and punctured lung were beginning to heal. The puncture appears to be small, and only one fracture has been found in his ribs. However, these are still serious injuries that need a sufficient amount of time to completely heal.

Fractured Rib

A fractured rib is essentially a break in the bone. It is a common NFL injury. Although Tony Romo's fractured rib does not appear to be severe, he is probably still experiencing the most common symptoms of pain, difficulty breathing and bruising. Romo admitted that it was "hard to breathe" in the Sept. 18 game.

One of the most common treatments in the NFL for rib injuries is painkiller shots. The injections allow the players to continue participating through the pain, but they are only temporary solutions. Tony Romo was probably in the game on Sept. 26 because of help from high doses of painkillers. However, painkillers only mask the problem and can quickly become addictive. In addition, they have to be administered to the chest and can cause another lung puncture. Painkillers can be dangerous because the player loses the ability to evaluate his pain threshold and risks creating a greater injury. Rest is necessary for the ribs to heal.

Punctured Lung

The CT scan revealed Romo's pneumothorax and lung puncture. A pneumothorax is characterized by air accumulating around the lung and is often associated with a rib fracture. Chest pain, difficulty breathing and fatigue are the most common symptoms.

Tony Romo's puncture is small, so it may not require surgery or extensive intervention to heal. However, rest is crucial for recovery because of the risk of complications. They include shock and respiratory failure. A permanent air leak in the lungs is also a common problem that would require surgery.

Returning to the Game

Even simple rib fractures and punctured lungs may require up to four weeks to heal completely. Putting Tony Romo back into a game so soon can cause complications and more injuries. Although pain killers can temporarily dull the pain, the coach is taking a large risk with Tony's health.

Lana has a B.S. degree in Biology and Chemistry. She is an avid athlete, youth coach and follows several sports.

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Updated Tuesday, Sep 27, 2011