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It’s not always easy to tell the difference between a bruised or broken rib.
Both injuries can make your chest feel tender to touch and both can cause pain on breathing in and out.
However, there are ways to determine if your rib is bruised or broken. Read on to discover what they are.
A broken rib is also known as a rib fracture. It describes a break in 1 or more of your ribs - the bones that form the rib cage and protect your vital organs.
A broken rib happens when you receive a forceful blow to your chest, such as from a fall, an accident or a physical attack. It can even be caused by severe coughing.
Sometimes, however, this force doesn’t break your rib. Instead it bruises the rib and/or nearby muscles, producing symptoms similar to a broken rib. Most rib injuries can be managed with self-care, but you should see a doctor or go to the emergency department immediately if you start to feel breathless or unwell.
It can be difficult to tell whether your rib is broken or just bruised - the symptoms are often similar. That’s why if a doctor suspects you have a rib fracture, you may need a chest X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
Broken or bruised ribs heal in the same way and get better by themselves within 3 to 6 weeks, so there’s often no need to determine if the rib really is broken or just bruised.
Most, but not all, symptoms for broken and bruised ribs are the same. They include:
You may be more likely to get a broken or bruised rib if you:
Children and babies are less likely to fracture a rib since their bones are more elastic. If your child - or a child you know - has a suspected cracked rib it’s important to find out what caused it.
Rib fractures - Symptoms, diagnosis and treatment | BMJ Best Practice [Internet]. Bestpractice.bmj.com. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Broken or bruised ribs [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Tidy D. Rib Injuries | Fractured, Broken & Bruised Ribs | Pain Relief and Treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Definition of RIBS [Internet]. Merriam-webster.com. 2020 [cited 1 February 2020]. Available here.
Osteoporosis [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Broken ribs - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.