Broken or bruised ribs
Bruised or broken ribs can be very painful but usually heal by themselves.
Check if you have a bruised or broken rib
Broken (fractured) or bruised ribs are usually caused by a fall, a blow to the chest or severe coughing.
- 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 can’t be easily splinted or supported like other bones, so they’re usually left to heal naturally. There is often no need for an X-ray.
Things you can do yourself
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:
- 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 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
- wrap a bandage tightly around your chest to stop your lungs expanding properly
- lie down or stay still for a long time
- strain yourself or lift heavy objects
- play any sports or do any exercise that makes your pain worse
- smoke - stopping smoking may also help your recovery
See a GP or go to a minor injuries unit if your pain hasn’t improved within a few weeks
The doctor can prescribe stronger painkillers if necessary or refer you to hospital if you need further treatment.
Go to A&E or call 999 if you:
- have an injury caused by a serious accident - such as a car accident
- have shortness of breath that is getting worse
- have chest pain that is getting worse
- have pain in your tummy or shoulder
- are coughing up blood
- are coughing up yellow or green mucus
- have a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery
It could mean you have a chest infection or that a broken rib has damaged something else like your lung, liver or spleen.
If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.