Thousands of people each year experience broken or bruised ribs.

Many people tend to get the two confused because they both have mirroring symptoms, but broken ribs and bruised ribs are two completely different things.

First things first:

What Causes Bruised or Broken Ribs?

An injury resulting in a bruised or broken rib can often be difficult to diagnose and treat.

Most often a fall, car accident, or contact sports can result in bruised or broken ribs. In some cases, even coughing extremely hard can put too much pressure on the ribs and break them.

Broken and bruised ribs can both be extremely painful, but they should resolve within a few weeks.

Broken Rib Symptoms

  • Taking a deep breath causes you an extreme amount of pain
  • Increasing pain when you press on the area of injury
  • Increasing pain when you twist or bend your body

Bruised Rib Symptoms

  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain when you breathe
  • Pain and tenderness of the injured area

There are slight differences between bruised and broken ribs. The only way to find out for sure what's going on is to get an x-ray.

See a Doctor About Your Injury

If your pain hasn't gotten better over the course of a few weeks, you need to see a medical professional as soon as possible.

They may be able to prescribe you stronger pain medication and they may even suggest that you go to a specialist for further treatment. If you have any of these symptoms, please seek medical attention right away:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Coughing up mucus
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Increasing chest pain
  • Pain in the stomach or shoulder

If you have any of these symptoms, the injury may be more serious than you think.

How to Treat Bruised or Broken Ribs

Broken and bruised ribs can typically be treated at home, but it's best to seek medical attention. Rib injuries can become a serious issue depending on the severity of the injury.

Unfortunately, if you do have broken ribs, a medical professional can usually only help you by giving you pain medication unless the ribs are severely damaged to where it may be a life-threatening situation. Usually, both injuries are treated the same way since it's hard to splint the ribs. 

Treatment for Broken or Bruised Ribs

 Most often, you can treat yourself at home for your injuries.

  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications will ease the pain of your broken or bruised ribs by taking it regularly as the dosage instructions indicate on the bottle.
  • Resting is one of the main things that you need to do when you injure your ribs, especially if they are broken. If you don't rest, your ribs won't be able to heal themselves.
  • Using ice is a great way to numb the pain of injured ribs. It's important that you constantly have the ice on your ribs without removing it. It's ok to place ice in a bag and wrap it in a towel if needed.

Even though most treatment will occur at home, it is still necessary to see your physician when you suspect bruised, broken, or cracked ribs or have difficulty breathing.

Broken Ribs Treatment

It is not possible to treat bruised and broken ribs like other bones.

When other bones are broken, they can be placed in a cast or splinted to ensure they heal correctly. Unfortunately, this is not the case for your ribs and must heal naturally on their own.

However, if things do not improve or get worse over time, it is necessary to consult a medical physician for further evaluation and treatment.

Recovery from Rib Injury

It's important to rest while you are waiting on your ribs to heal. If you don't rest, you may cause more injuries to the ribs.

Remember to Breathe

An injury to the ribs is very painful, especially when breathing in. It will be difficult to breathe normally, but it is important to breathe as normally as possible to help clear any mucus from the chest area and prevent further infections.

Be sure to do breathing exercises while your ribs heal. If you don't do breathing exercises, you may get a chest infection from mucus build up. Be sure to take 10 deep breaths every hour to keep your lungs free of mucus. Make sure that you feel your lungs entirely opening. 

If you prevent yourself from breathing normally to avoid pain, you are more likely to end up with chest infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis that could result in hospitalization.

Swelling, tenderness, or bruising on the chest may result over time.

Steps to Recovery

When the cause of your pain has been determined, follow these steps to ensure your body heals properly:

1. Use pain medication

Your doctor may prescribe pain medication that is more effective than over-the-counter. Make sure to take this medication regularly. If you are not prescribed pain medication, over-the-counter medication, such as Ibuprofen or Tylenol can help reduce your pain.

2. Ice Packs

Use ice packs regularly to prevent swelling. Hold the pack to your chest in 15-20 minute increments.

If you need ice packs for your recovery, we have a great selection of cold therapy products you may find useful. Our customers frequently find success with these products and we think you might too. You can find our cold therapy products here.

3. Rest

It is important to rest as much as possible. Take a few days off work until you feel that you can handle everyday tasks. It is necessary to take time off work especially is the pain is severe or you are required to do physical labor. The more your rest, the faster your body will heal.

4. Cough regularly

Though it will be tempting to avoid coughing to avoid pain, this is a necessary part of the healing process. Refusal to cough can result in a build up of mucus in the chest and lungs resulting in an infection.

To reduce the pain from coughing, hold a pillow against your chest. Do not wrap your chest in a bandage. This will prevent your lungs from expanding properly and increase your healing time.

5. Try to move on a regular basis.

Though it will be tempting to just lie down, this will be more difficult. It is recommended that you sleep upright for the first few nights to help your body heal.

6. No Lifting

It is very important to avoid straining or lifting heavy objects until your ribs have healed. If you do not, you may injure yourself further prolonging the recovery process. Ask for help from friends and family if you have little children at home for the first few days.

 A bruised, broken, or cracked rib is not a fun experience. However, with the proper treatment and care, you will be back on your feet in no time.