What is a broken rib?
A broken rib is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in your rib cage breaks or cracks. The most common cause is chest trauma, such as from a fall, motor vehicle accident or impact during contact sports.
Many broken ribs are merely cracked. While still painful, cracked ribs aren’t as potentially dangerous as ribs that have been broken into separate pieces. A jagged edge of broken bone can damage major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lung.
In most cases, broken ribs usually heal on their own in one or two months. Adequate pain control is important so that you can continue to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications, such as pneumonia.
How common is a broken rib?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of a broken rib?
The common symptoms of broken rib are:
- Take a deep breath
- Press on the injured area
- Bend or twist your body
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Avery tender spot in your rib area that occurs after trauma
- Difficulty breathing or pain with deep breathing.
Seek medical attention immediately if you feel pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that extends beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can indicate a heart attack.
What causes a broken rib?
Broken ribs are most commonly caused by direct impacts — such as those from motor vehicle accidents, falls, child abuse or contact sports. Ribs also can be fractured by repetitive trauma from sports like golf and rowing or from severe and prolonged coughing.
What increases my risk for a broken rib?
There are many risk factors for broken rib, such as:
- Having this disease in which your bones lose their density makes you more susceptible to a bone fracture.
- Sports participation. Playing contact sports, such as hockey or football, increases your risk of trauma to your chest.
- Cancerous lesion in a rib. A cancerous lesion can weaken the bone, making it more susceptible to breaks.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is a broken rib diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask questions about your injury and do a physical exam. The doctor may:
- Push on your chest to find out where you are hurt.
- Watch you breathe and listen to your lungs to make sure air is moving in and out normally.
- Listen to your heart.
- Check your head, neck, spine, and belly to make sure there are no other injuries.
You may need to have an X-ray or other imaging test if your doctor isn’t sure about your symptoms. But rib fractures don’t always show up on X-rays. So you may be treated as though you have a fractured rib even if an X-ray doesn’t show any broken bones.
How is a broken rib treated?
Most fractured ribs are treated at home and will heal on their own over time. Home treatment will help you manage the pain while you heal. Pain relief can help you feel better and let you take deeper breaths.
A fractured rib usually takes at least 6 weeks to heal. To help manage the pain while the fracture heals:
- Put ice on the injured area.
- Get extra rest.
- Take pain medicine such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medicine if over-the-counter medicines don’t work.
While you are healing, it is important to cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once an hour. This can help prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of the lung tissue.
If you have fractured your ribs and you have not injured your neck or back, it is a good idea to lie on your injured side. This may seem odd at first, but it will let you take deeper breaths.
In the past, it was common to tape or tightly wrap the injured rib area. But you should not do this, even if it eases your pain. It can keep you from taking deep breaths, and it could cause parts of your lung to collapse or could increase your risk for pneumonia.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a broken rib?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with broken rib:
- Regularly taking over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen (aspirin shouldn’t be given to children aged under 16) – follow the dosage instructions on the packet
- Holding an ice pack to your chest regularly during the first few days to reduce the pain and swelling – a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel will also work
- Resting periodically – take time off work if you need to, especially if your work involves physical labour or the pain is severe
- Keeping mobile between rest periods – walking around and moving your shoulders occasionally can help with your breathing and help clear any mucus from your lungs
- Holding a pillow against your chest if you need to cough
- Carrying out breathing exercises – take 10 slow, deep breaths every hour, letting your lungs inflate fully each time, to help keep your lungs clear
- Don’t wrap a bandage tightly around your chest, as this will stop your lungs expanding properly. Try to avoid lying down or staying still for long periods. It may help to sleep more upright for the first few nights.
- Avoid straining and lifting heavy objects until you’re feeling better, as you may injure yourself further and take longer to recover. If you smoke, stopping may also help your recovery. Get help to stop smoking.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 13, 2017 | Last Modified: December 8, 2019
Broken ribs. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/broken-ribs/home/ovc-20169623. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Fractured Rib - Topic Overview. http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/tc/fractured-rib-topic-overview#2. Accessed September 13, 2017.
Broken or bruised ribs. http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rib-injuries/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Accessed September 13, 2017.