Roller Derby Injuries: Why Do My Ribs Hurt?

rib pain in roller derby

So far in my 9 months or so of roller derby I’ve been pretty lucky, injury-wise. Other than some shin pain related to cross-training, I’ve (touch wood) managed to avoid any injuries that would keep me off skates – until now. Last week I got taken out by an excellently executed shoulder to the ribs in an offence drill (I was bracing a three wall)… and by ‘taken out’ I mean down on the floor, catching my breath (like I said, excellently executed!).

I had a feeling that I’d come away with a rib injury – it’s actually the second time I’ve hurt my ribs during this particular drill – and sure enough, the next day I had that familiar sharp pain when laughing, coughing or taking a deep breath. A test sit-up confirmed that, yep, crunches were off the table for now. Optimistically, I still thought I’d probably be able to attend practice as usual. Then I turned over or twisted or did something funny in my sleep that hurt enough to wake me up, had a restless rest-of-the-night, and when I woke up I had to kind of… flop sideways off the bed onto the floor to get up. Because my core didn’t work any more. Bummer.

Diagnosis 

So what’s going on here? According to the NHS, I’m probably suffering from bruised or broken (AKA fractured AKA cracked) ribs. These are both generally treated the same way, so – even though there would be some mild satisfaction in knowing for sure whether it’s a fracture or not – an x-ray isn’t actually necessary. So no emergency room for me, unless any of these also happen:

  • increasing shortness of breath
  • increasing chest pain
  • pain in your tummy or shoulder [I love that the NHS website goes with ‘tummy’]
  • coughing up blood
  • coughing up yellow or green mucus
  • a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above

For anyone who hasn’t experienced a bruised or broken rib before, for me the pain takes the form of consistent mild discomfort for a few weeks, with things like coughing, laughing and sneezing causing a sharp, acute pain. Getting comfy while sleeping is tricky, and it’s too uncomfortable to lay on the effected side. The area itself is sore to the touch, and taking a hit to the ribs while bruised/broken is (as I foolishly found out this week) really painful.

Treatment 

Bruised or broken ribs means I’m likely to feel like this for 3-6 weeks. Frustratingly, there’s little that can be done to speed up healing. The NHS advises icing in the first few days after injury, over the counter pain meds, taking it easy and carrying out deep breathing exercises to keep lungs clear (though this is probably more applicable to those who’ve got a rib injury from violent coughing). In terms of what not to do, wrapping a bandage tightly around your ribs is a no-no, as is lying down for long periods of time (er… might be tricky to avoid this for about 8 hours a night?!). As someone with a newly discovered passion for lifting heavy shit in the gym, the most depressing advice of all from the NHS is to ‘avoid straining and lifting heavy objects until you’re feeling better’. The idea of taking 3-6 weeks away from contact derby and lifting weights is incredibly disheartening. Of course, faced with an answer I didn’t like, I turned to the internet to see if there was any advice from the derby and/or lifting worlds…

In this thread on the roller derby reddit, plenty of fellow skaters describe getting rib injuries from shoulder hits to the side. Unfortunately there isn’t much advice beyond what the NHS advises, with most people taking between 2 and 8 weeks to feel back to normal. Discussion on weightlifting forums is largely along the same lines, with a minority of voices in the ‘just man-up and work through the pain’ camp. Hmmm. Some advice that seems more sensible is to ease back into training, starting with much lighter weights than you would normally lift – e.g. 25% of what you were lifting before injury – and increasing a few kg at a time from there. Some exercises, as I’ve already discovered, are so painful with a rib injury as to be practically impossible – for me bench press (barbell and dumbbell) was the main culprit here, with any kind of sit up variation also being a no-go. I don’t expect to be back on these for perhaps a month.

I did come across this full body workout for broken ribs which looks like a gentle routine aimed at keeping you mobile – I’ll incorporate into my mornings over the next few weeks.

Prevention 

Speaking to one of my coaches about avoiding future rib injuries (in so far as you can ‘avoid’ injuries in roller derby!) I’m aware that as I get better at the sport and learn to react in a more fluid way when taking a hit to the ribs, my chance of injury will naturally decrease. Given that others aren’t getting rib injuries from running this drill, I figure I must be either taking the hit in a bad way or have a disposition to rib injuries (is it possible to have particularly weak ribs??). In the mean time, suffering the same annoying setback twice in the space of a few months makes me want to take every action possible to avoid it again. So – what are my options?

My first thought was: we have (compulsory or permitted) protection for practically every other part of our body in roller derby, surely there are options for ribs? Indeed, a few forum threads (such as this one) mention rib padding being used for roller derby – but only ones that have been designed for other sports such boxing, basketball or rugby. Frustratingly, many of the options that look most viable for roller derby are designed for men – and it seems like at least some male roller derby players are taking advantage of this. Suggestions from male players include padded rugby shirts and stuff by Troy Lee Designs (who I Googled and found out do moto/bike gear).

roller derby rib protection ideas

These may be great for male players, who wear t-shirt shaped tops to play in, but they obviously won’t work for female players (as much as I may want to look like Batman). Further digging found recommendations of Warrior Burns Lacrosse Pads and VKM Adult Rib Protectors:

Rib protection ideas 2

I can kind of see these working, but it’s really hard to tell until trying them in game-play. Another thing I’ve found are these basketball compression tank tops by Nike and Adidas, which actually look kind of ideal, but annoyingly appear to only come in large men’s size:

Rib protection ideas

Finally, I know some derby players are using G-Form protection for shins, knees and elbows and looking at the website I found that they also offer compression shirts with rib protection. Good news: they do them for women! Bad news: they are t-shirt style rather than vest-style 🙁

g form rib protection

Well, that’s everything I could find in terms of potential rib protection for roller derby, and none of the options seem ideal for a female player. I’m kind of surprised that there are so many readily available options bum saver padded shorts but nada for ribs – can it really be that more people want to protect their cushion-y behinds than their hard, vulnerable ribs? Get on it skate protection manufacturers!

If you found a solution to rib pain woes, or even just have an idea I’ve not thought of, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. 

Ribs image credit: David Goehring, Flickr CC

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3 Comments

  1. Sugar Snap Tease

    December 27, 2015 at 1:15 am

    Thank you so much for this! It’s exactly what I’ve been researching as I separated a rib at my last bout; just a good shoulder hit with just right tension in my body apparently. I’ve been seeing a chiropractor that makes sure everything settles right back in place and heals right. I’m sticking to not doing anything that can cause re-injury for eight weeks, and will go from there. THOUGH, I’m literally having to fight against my justification to put on my skates just for fun; nope – wanna be able to bout again and not have to wait and heal again, because I did something too soon!

    I am also looking at yoga and stretching to help strengthen those intercostal muscles in the meantime.

    Looking forward to perusing the rest of your blog!

    -xoxo Sugar Snap Tease!
    Skagit Valley Roller Girls

    • Sugar Snap Tease

      December 27, 2015 at 1:17 am

      There’s also the McDavid Hoops V Hex shirt I was contemplating…

      Derby Love!

    • Glad someone else found the info useful! I went off-skates at practice just before our Christmas break and will be away from training for about a month because of various holidays, so I’m hoping that once I’m back I’ll be completely healed and able to get back into it. Ribs are feeling almost completely fine now, but I’m really nervous about taking a hit in that area again… I reckon I’ll try some of the lacrosse pads once I’m back doing contact, even if just for the psychological boost!

      Hope your ribs get better soon! x

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