A rib injury is a bruise, strain, break, separation, or irritation of one or more of the ribs in your chest. It can also be an injury to the tissue called cartilage that attaches the top 10 ribs to the breastbone.
What is the cause?
A fall or direct blow to the chest may bruise, strain, or break the ribs or injure the rib cartilage. Breaks usually happen in the outer curved part of the rib cage.
When a rib tears away from the cartilage, the injury is called a costochondral separation. It may result from a blow to the ribs, a fall, or landing hard on your feet. It might even be caused by forceful coughing or sneezing.
Irritation of a rib is called costochondritis. It may be caused by an infection or repeated coughing, or by overuse, like from rowing or heavy lifting. Sometimes the cause is not known.
What are the symptoms?
A rib injury causes pain and tenderness in the ribs. You may have pain when you breathe, move, laugh, or cough.
How is it diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Your provider will examine your chest and listen to your lungs. Tests may include X-rays or other scans.
How is it treated?
Rib injuries can be painful and make it hard to cough or take a deep breath. Your healthcare provider may prescribe pain medicine.
You may need to do breathing exercises while you heal to prevent lung problems.
Rib injuries usually heal without surgery. Bruised ribs or a costochondral separation usually take 3 to 4 weeks to heal. Broken ribs take 6 to 8 weeks to heal.
How can I take care of myself?
To relieve pain and help the injury heal:
Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured ribs every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you donâ€™t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
If coughing is painful, holding a pillow against your chest may help.
Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:
How and when you will hear your test results
How long it will take to recover
What activities you should avoid, including how much you can lift, and when you can return to your normal activities
How to take care of yourself at home
What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.
How can I help prevent rib injury?
Ribs are often injured in accidents that are not easy to prevent.
In contact sports like football itâ€™s important to wear the proper protective equipment.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth. Last modified: 2014-10-21 Last reviewed: 2013-07-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Rib Injury: References
Brotzman SB, and RC Manske. Clinical Orthopaedic Rehabilitation, An Evidence-Based Approach, Third Edition. Elsevier, 2011.
Busconi, BD, and Stevenson, JH, Sports Medicine Consult, Lippincott 2009.