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Broken or bruised ribs

Bruised or broken ribs can be very painful, but usually heal by themselves.

Broken or bruised ribs are usually caused by a fall, a blow to the chest or severe coughing.

Symptoms include:

  • strong pain in your chest area, particularly when you breathe in
  • swelling or tenderness around the affected ribs
  • sometimes bruising on the skin
  • feeling or hearing a crack if it's a broken rib

Ribs cannot be easily splinted or supported like other bones, so they're usually left to heal naturally.

There's often no need for an X-ray.

Broken or bruised ribs heal in the same way and usually get better by themselves within 3 to 6 weeks.

There are some things you can do to help ease pain and speed up healing:

Do

  • take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – avoid taking ibuprofen for 48 hours after your injury as it may slow down healing

  • hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel) to the affected ribs regularly in the first few days to bring down swelling

  • rest and take time off work if you need to

  • breathe normally and cough when you need to – this helps clear mucus from your lungs to prevent chest infections

  • if you need to cough, hold a pillow against your chest

  • walk around and sometimes move your shoulders to help you breathe and clear mucus from your lungs

  • take 10 slow, deep breaths every hour to help clear your lungs

  • try to sleep more upright for the first few nights

Don't

  • do not wrap a bandage tightly around your chest to stop your lungs expanding properly

  • do not lie down or stay still for a long time

  • do not strain yourself or lift heavy objects

  • do not play any sports or do any exercise that makes your pain worse

  • do not smoke – stopping smoking may also help your recovery