Danica McKellar Injured in DWTS Rehearsal

Given the high level of competition on this season’s Dancing with the Stars, injuries to the celebrities is nearly a given.

The latest occurred on Thursday, when former Wonder Years actress turned mathematician, Danica McKellar was injured during a rehearsal with partner  Val Chmerkovskiy. She put this message out on Twitter:

Danica McKellar

Undaunted, Danica did rehearse on Friday but admitted: “it’s tough dancing with a broken rib. @iamvalc choreographed an amazing routine- fingers crossed I can pull it off!”

Good luck Danica!

A Short Anatomy Lesson about Ribs:

muscles-around-ribsThere are twelve pairs of ribs, connecting to the spine in the back, and by cartilage extensions (called the costal cartilages) to the breastbone (sternum) in the front. This space is called the thoracic cage. The ribcage has two main functions-the first being protection of the delicate vital organs within it – the heart and lungs.

The second is its participation in the process of breathing. Between each rib is a muscle called an intercostal muscle. Across the floor of the ribcage is the large muscular diaphragm. During an inspiration, the diaphragm contracts and flattens, and the intercostal muscles contract, pulling the ribs up and out. This action causes a partial vacuum within the thoracic cage, which pulls air into the lungs. On expiration, the muscles relax, and air is expelled from the lungs.

Rib Injuries

Blunt force is the primary cause of rib injuries, such as occurs in sports, motor vehicle accidents, or crush injuries to the chest. Injuries can occur to the soft tissues, or to the ribs themselves:

Soft tissue injuries
Soft tissue of the ribcage includes the intercostal muscles and the costal cartilage.  Common injuries include:

  • Bruising – the blood vessels rupture and leak blood into the surrounding tissues. Bruising of the chest wall is a common rib trauma.
  • Intercostal strains – intercostal muscles allow the ribcage to move up and down. These muscles can be strained by any activity that involves extreme or forceful twisting of the body or swinging of the arms. Sports that commonly cause this type of injury include golf and tennis.
  • Costochondral separation – the rib is torn loose from the costal cartilage and is detached from the sternum.

Rib fracture
The curved design of the ribs makes them resistant to fractures. Their ability to flex helps the bone to absorb the force of a blow. However,any bone will break if the force exerted against it is stronger than it can structurally withstand. A rib is most likely to fracture at its outer curve, which is its weakest point.

rib_fracture-labelledThe symptoms of rib injuries depend on the type and severity of the injury, but can include:

  • Pain at the injury site
  • Pain when the ribcage flexes – with movement, with a deep breath or when you cough, sneeze or laugh
  • Crunching or grinding sounds (crepitus) when the injury site is touched or moved
  • Muscle spasms of the ribcage
  • Deformed appearance of the ribcage
  • Breathing difficulties.

Risk factors for rib fractures include:

  • Age: 65 years and older
  • Difficulty doing activities of daily living
  • Playing contact sports
  • Having weak bones
  • Having a chronic cough

Treatment consists of rest, and pain relief, usually with over the counter medications like Tylenol or Ibuprofen. In the past, elastic bandages were wrapped around the chest to act as a kind of splint for the fracture.  They are not used as much today as they may prevent the injured person from taking deep breaths, which could lead to pneumonia (infection in the lung).

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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