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Dealing with broken ribs

April 7th, 2017 | Posted by A. Jones in Skeletal Injuries - (Comments Off on Dealing with broken ribs)

Broken ribs usually happen due to a direct blow to the chest or torso such as in vehicular accidents, falls and during contact sports. Conditions such as osteoarthritis and bone cancer can cause weakening of the ribs and other bones.

Symptoms of broken ribs

  • Pain when breathing
  • Mild to severe pain near the rib cage
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath and feeling restless, dizzy, sleepy, anxious and scared.
  • Pain in the rib when coughing excessively due to conditions such as osteoarthritis or cancer.
    Broken rib

    Mild to severe pain near the rib cage is an indication of a broken rib.


  • Avoid wrapping the rib cage.
  • Apply an ice pack on the affected area for at least 20 minutes every hour in the first 2 days and reduce it to 10-20 minutes at 3 times every day to lessen the swelling and pain. The cold temperature will constrict the blood vessels to lessen the inflammation and numbs the surrounding nerves. Avoid placing the pack directly on the skin to prevent further damage and worsen the condition.
  • After 48 hours, apply heat on the affected area to relieve the spasms of the intercostal muscles found between the ribs. Apply heat at least 30-minute intervals and let the muscles cool down for 30 minutes and reapply again. Avoid placing heat directly on the skin to prevent burns. Wrap heat using a towel or piece of cloth before placing to the area.
  • Take the prescribed over-the-counter non-steroidal and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin to lessen the pain and inflammation.
  • Minimize performing cardio exercises to prevent an increase in the heart and breathing rates that can result to irritation and inflammation of the broken rib. Minimize twisting and lateral flexion of the torso while the rib is in the healing stage. Perform gentle exercises such as walking, driving and desk work.
  • When coughing or sneezing, hold a soft pillow against the chest to provide cushion to the blow and lessen the pain.
  • Sleep on the back or supine position to lessen the pressure on the chest. Another alternative is sleeping in an upright reclining chair for a few days until the inflammation and pain is minimized. Another option is placing pillows behind the back and at the back of the head while sleeping.
  • Eat well-balanced foods rich in minerals and vitamins. Consume whole grains, lean meats, dairy products and plenty of purified water. Take dietary supplements such as calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and K and phosphorus for fast healing of the broken rib.

Disclaimer / More Information

The material posted on this page on broken ribs is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage rib injuries by taking a first aid and CPR class with one of our training providers.

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