Rib pain can make even the simplest actions feel like an ordeal.
Whether it’s coughing, breathing deeply or simply touching your chest, the everyday movements you usually take for granted can turn into actions you dread when you're nursing a rib injury.
While it’s not a pleasant experience, for most, the pain caused by a rib injury improves within a few weeks.
But if time passes and the pain continues, or you develop other symptoms, see a doctor - you may have a serious injury or complications that need medical attention.
Pain from a broken or bruised rib usually heals by itself over time. However, you should speak to a doctor if:
Get medical help immediately if:
A doctor should be able to tell if your pain is most likely due to bruised or broken ribs based on the details you give them and by examining your chest.
They may ask you to take some deep breaths and cough to check for signs of pain. They may also press on areas of your chest to check for tenderness or swelling.
If you have complications due to a rib injury the doctor may run some imaging tests, including:
If you’ve broken a rib, it’s possible to develop complications. These tend to happen when your internal organs are damaged by the sharp end of a broken rib or when rib pain prevents you from breathing or coughing as normal.
These complications can include:
If you’re concerned about rib pain, always speak to a doctor.
You can help your recovery by avoiding certain actions, such as lifting heavy objects, straining yourself or playing sports. Most important of all is to give your body the time it needs to recover naturally.
And if your symptoms suggest that you have an uncomplicated injury (that doesn’t need medical attention), take a look at this article for some additional ways to help you recover from a rib injury.
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Broken ribs - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic [Internet]. Mayoclinic.org. 2020 [cited 29 January 2020]. Available here.
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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.