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What Do You Do for a Broken Rib? Symptoms, Pain Management

If you have a broken rib you must restrict activities, gently massage the affected area, take painkillers, and practice deep breathing exercises.

A broken rib, medically known as rib fracture, is an emergency condition for which you should receive immediate medical help.

Your doctor will ask you to do the following if they diagnose a broken rib:

  • Restrict activities that might increase pain related to the broken rib. Doctors will advise absolute rest.
  • Massage gently over the affected area with ice wrapped in a cloth or a bag of frozen peas for 15 to 20 minutes about four to five times a day. This will help reduce the pain and swelling.
  • Your doctor will prescribe painkiller medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Take them as prescribed for pain relief.
  • Practice deep breathing exercises because shallow breathing causes rib pain and may result in pneumonia.
  • Do not apply any compression wraps around the rib area because it may hamper your breathing.
  • Try to sleep in a more upright position, if possible, for the first few days of the injury.
  • You might need to use a device known as an incentive spirometer that tracks the functioning of your lung as the broken ribs heal.

Most broken ribs heal within six weeks.

Getting pain relief

Getting adequate pain relief is of utmost importance in the treatment of broken ribs because pain can restrict your chest movements and result in shallow breathing. Shallow breathing can lead to the accumulation of mucus in the lungs and eventually result in lung infections such as pneumonia.

Your doctor may inject a numbing medication around the nerves that supply the affected area if you do not get relief from painkiller medications.


Surgery may be needed for people with serious cases of broken ribs that cause difficulty breathing or are associated with bleeding into the chest cavity (hemothorax). Surgery may involve fixing steel plates or screws into the ribs or draining blood from the chest.

How do you know if you have a broken rib?

You’ll know if you have a broken rib if you have been injured from accidents such as:

  • Getting hit in the chest during sports such as football, soccer, and hockey
  • Falling on something with heavy force or from a height on the chest
  • Getting smashed on the chest with a steering wheel of a car during road accidents
  • Forceful coughing (rare)

If any of the above accidents cause the following signs and symptoms, you are most likely to have broken one or more of your ribs:

  • Excruciating pain when taking a breath
  • An area of ribs in the chest or back pains on touch
  • Worsening of pain while twisting the body, laughing or coughing
  • Bruising of the affected area

What tests help diagnose the condition of broken ribs?

Your doctor will look at the movement of your ribs as they move up and down with your breathing. They will touch the affected area to see if it causes you pain.

If you are conscious, they will ask you about what incident led to the injury.

To arrive at the exact diagnosis, they may order one or more of the tests including:

  • X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging, and computed tomography scans of the chest
  • Bone scans

Medically Reviewed on 12/2/2021


Image Source: iStock Images

Rib fracture.

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