ribs: broken or bruised, it doesn’t matter

Monday, November 26, 2012

Predicting winning lottery numbers is a lot like guessing when the body is going to heal and I would bet that Rex Ryan and the New York Jets coaching staff haven’t had a winning Powerball ticket in a long time. Tim Tebow, their backup quarterback, hurt his ribs a couple of weeks back and continues to have pain. It’s no surprise to most people who have suffered broken or bruised ribs that it takes a long time to get better and one cannot rush time. But to the Jets’ coaches, it came as a surprise that a pro football player couldn’t muster mind over body.

The basics about rib injuries:

  • Broken, fractured or cracked all mean the same thing.
  •  A bruised rib usually refers to the structures surrounding the rib, like bone and cartilage and not necessarily the rib itself. Regardless of whether the rib is broken or the area is bruised, damage has occurred to the rib area and that disrupts the ability to breathe easily.
  • We breathe like a bellows; the ribs spread wide and the diaphragm pushes down sucking air into the lungs.
  • Pain can prevent deep breaths, preventing the lung underneath the damaged area from completely expanding.
  • The lung is a dark, warm place and if air isn’t moving through every nook and cranny, infections can sprout. Pneumonia is the major complication of a chest wall injury that can develop in a few hours or a few days.

Patients and doctors are on different pages when it comes to diagnosis. Patients want to know if a rib is fractured and expect x-rays to look for the break. Doctors are more interested in what else might be damaged due to the injury. A plain chest x-ray is all that is needed, not necessarily the multiple views and radiation exposure that comes with a detailed rib series. The CT and MRI scans that Mr. Tebow underwent seem like overkill.

The ribs also protect the upper abdomen where the liver (on the right) and the spleen (on the left) live. This is where a CT scan is helpful, if the suspicion of abdominal organ damage exists and the diagnosis can be confirmed, the need for an operation may be potentially prevented. Often solid organs, like the spleen, heal themselves (see Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys).

But rib injuries hurt and take time to heal, only because they cannot be rested. If you hurt an arm, it can be placed in a sling. If a leg is injured, it can be rested by using crutches. But a person can’t stop breathing and 12-14 times a minute, the injured rib is forced to move, stretching the muscle fibers or bone edges, delaying their ability it mend. The only treatment is adequate pain control so that a deep breath can happen and pneumonia can be prevented.

Aside from breathing, the muscles that surround the chest help move the arms and twist the trunk. It usually takes time at night for the patient to get comfortable enough to fall asleep. Usually, they prop themselves up with pillows or sleep in a recliner. Lying flat makes the pain worse because the chest has to rise against gravity to get that deep breath in and sitting upright takes gravity away. Morning is perhaps the worst time of day. After a few hours of sleep, the chest wall muscles have become tight and the first twist or turn to get out of bed can be excruciating to the point that the same move on morning two is dreaded.

The bottom line is that rib injuries take 4-6 weeks to heal and there is no rushing Mother Nature. The Jets’ coaches should not have expected a football player to suit up and play in 10 days and Mr. Tebow was a victim of wishful thinking. Mind over matter doesn’t work when the mind is more interested in how much the next breath is going to hurt, not whether that linebacker is closing in for the tackle.

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89 Responses to ribs: broken or bruised, it doesn’t matter

  1. Me says:

    How do you explain Tony Romo playing last year (2011) with injured ribs?

  2. bwedro@charter.net says:

    It took Tony Romo 8 weeks to heal while playing through his injury. It also took repeated anesthetic injections at the fracture site to allow him to function. Pro athletes subject themselves to many treatments that would not be offered to the regular patient. -BW

  3. john says:

    Good info… are you familiar with Ben Roethlisberger’s current rib injury? And how it could puncture an aorta? I would *assume* there would be no possibility to use pain injections to be able to play…

  4. bwedro@charter.net says:

    Roethlisberger fracture his first rib and because of the anatomy, there are critical structures that lay underneath that can be damaged, including the subclavian artery and vein, the brachial plexus and the to part of the lung. It has been rarely reported that an aortic arch aneurysm may form. While this is not a “punctured” aorta, it is definitely a potential disaster.

    Check out the DocTalk column from January 2012 about first rib injuries https://mddirect.org/2012/01/18/the-first-rib/ -BW

  5. Gary says:

    Could it take less time for the rib to heal? And can you workout with it ..if you can take the pain or is that counter productive?

    • bwedro@charter.net says:

      Rib injuries take 4-6 weeks to heal, give or take. Pain medication should be used to allow deep breaths to prevent pneumonia. Activity should take place as tolerated.

  6. Renee Moore says:

    Hi i got beaten about 4 weeks ago, most damaged was sustained on both sides of my ribs, until 4 days ago, was not having to much pain unless coughing or lifting! However have developed a cold, and now am in absolute agony it hurts really really bad, I cam barely breathe and honestly hurts to much, please help me!

  7. Pat says:

    I fell hard on my ribs and the pain feels like a break. However, I have no bruising; can you have a broken rib if there is no bruising? This is only the day after; is it necessary to see a doctor? I am already doing slow deep breathing. Thanks for the informative article.

  8. Karen Stahl says:

    Delayed response but ribs can be broken without any bruising present. I wondered the same thing until yesterday- no bruising and two of my ribs are broken. Doctors where I am (Texas) I wish would realize pain mess are for people in pain. You have not been forbidden to prescribe them so if your patient is having a lot of pain breathing, please give them something better than tramadol. Second night and hurting too much for deep breaths or sleeping

    • Con says:

      Reason, opioids slow breathing, plus rib pain causes shallow breathing, which cause less air flow clearance and can develop lung infection which causes a lot more pain such as coughing.
      Pain meds given are mostly over counter for a reason.

  9. Sam the Sham says:

    Does pain from cracked ribs fade gradually or in spurts. I’m on my 8th day & it hurts about the same as day 1. Any chance of a noticeable difference anytime soon?

    • bwedro@charter.net says:

      The pain may last a couple weeks or more, because the rib edges continue to move everytime you take a breath.

  10. Ralph Dyson says:

    68 year old with a broken ‘floating’ rib. Best information of all sites I’ve found all evening. I will sleep better tonight and be far less worried.
    Thank you.

  11. Lori Fahnestock says:

    I have read multiple articles on ribs and this by far has been the most informative, thank you, I think the comparative article was more informative for my mind frame at this time for me and my injured rib, again thank you.

  12. Nina Johnson says:

    thank you for your help

  13. Serina says:

    Yes this was good info for me too… Hurt my ribs leaning over a boat…felt a pop and instantly was in so much pain…went to er and the done xray and cat scan and said nothing was broken just bruised ribs but this is day 3 and it still hurts but seems to be getting better with the good Lords help and I’m taking 2 Aleve every 12 hours which seems to help better for then pain than ibruprophen… I also was prescribed robaxin muscle relaxer…I have tramadol but I haven’t had o take any tramadol..I winded up going to er twice bc of the pain and they gave me tordoil both time which also helped the pain…it would hurt so bad just trying to take a deep breath and to cough…it seems like its starting to get some better now…still hurs and I have to wLk really slow holding my left rib cage…it feels better when I’m in bed propped up then laying flat down…I practice slow deep breathsto try to prevent pneumonia and it still hurts some but tolerated with my pain medicine…I hope this might help someone with same problem.

  14. JMC says:

    When your ribs hurt they hurt bad and you need the reassurance that one day soon the pain will be gone. The original post from
    2012 is timeless. Knowing that it’s not hopeless to be pain free from a rib injury is such a relief. That’s what those of us who seek out articles on the internet for medical information are looking for. Yes, I too find myself waking up at 2:30am hurting worse than after the fall I took. I am starting week 3 following the accident. I appreciate finding the above information and hope it stays up on the internet for others to find when they are hurting and don’t know what to do. What I learned from those who posted before me…take Aleve (if you aren’t allergic to NSAIDs) and be patient. Feel better everyone!

  15. Toni Tiger says:

    June 7, 2017 I totalled my car. I hydroplaned crossing railroad tracks..going the speed limit or under which was 45 mph..I was knocked unconscious and did a 360 spin and ended up down in a deep ditch on the other side of the road..windshield side down which shattered. Thank God I did not hit any other cars. My question is I am in extreme excruciating pain on the right side of the front of my ribcage. In the ER they did a CT of my head, abdomen and thorax..( I don’t know what the thorax is..but anyways..nothing damaged there) I was in and out of it when they released me..I was there 4 hours and remember nothing really. They released me to my husband and father. That happened on Wednesday..I woke up Friday evening at home..oblivious to what happened …Anyways.. my question is how would I know if I have broke.. fractured or bruised ribs? I cannot lay down due to the severe pain..when I cough the pain is too intense to describe. Would it even be worth going back and getting xrays or something? I mean there is nothing they can do anyways… Right? I am taking Ibuprofen 800 every 4 hours which helps…and not moving my right arm because of such intense pain. Should I get checked? Would it even be worth my time? Is there anything else I can do at home to help me? Thanks in advance if I get any advice..have a blessed day.

    • bwedro@charter.net says:

      First, thorax is another word for chest.
      If you have pain with breathing or coughing or moving, you may have damaged your ribs. Again whether they are broken or bruised isn’y very important because it takes weeks to heal. If the pain is not controlled, you may not be able to take adequate deep breaths and a return visit to your family doctor for a recheck would be appropriate.

  16. Toni Tiger says:

    Good morning.. I have been awake since 4am simply because I hurt. I have been resting and sleeping in spurts.. when I can..no regular sleeping pattern for me right now due to the agony I am in..lol Idid do a follow-up with my Primary Dr yesterday morning.. I explained to her the horrible and unimaginable pain I am in.. she basically said what you told me.. that I would stay in pain for at least a couple more weeks. My Dad drove me to her office.. because I honestly can’t drive.. once again due to pain. On the way there we hit a dip in the road..ever since I have been in the worse pain since the accident..a week ago today. I have a new question.. when should I worry..or should I? I fear now I may have a bruised lung or something.. with a possible blood clot.. I feel I am overreacting..am I? I am taking Ibuprofen 800 mg with a Hydrocodone 7.5 every 4 hours now.. she said to add a dose of Tylenol with it. All that medicine and it is not even touching the pain.. I am in worse pain than ever before. Is this just part of the healing process..it gets worse before it gets better? If my lung is bruised I think possibly from hitting the dip.. would it change anything? How would I know if it is maybe bruised and forming a blood clot? I think I am starting to panic because I have not ever in my entire life been in this much pain..lol Should I just quit freaking out? Lol

  17. Evelyn says:

    I have injured my ribs now 3 separate times leaning over a car door/edge of a trunk and a recycling bin. in this instances I heard a pop and the pain and tightness started about 4-6 hours later and lasted as this chain notes at least 2 weeks. I had an additional injury last year when a NYC subway door closed on me and my chest. All in the last 2 years never before this. I am 54 — I am wondering now if I have developed some weakness in my rib connective tissue/muscles or is it just bad luck?

    • John Tee. says:

      Would be good to get an answer to this as I did the same today. A lot of pain but was yours broken or bruised. The pop/crack as the initial trigger was the concern.

  18. Stacey says:

    Do we goto a doctor basically to get drugs in order to breath deeper and be able to function while Broken ribs heal? Because taking 3 weeks off and sitting around, I think I would go crazy just sitting around for 3 weeks.

    I was running with my dogs and tripped on an uneven sidewalk fell hard on knee and wrist then noticed later when I got home I could barely move my upper body without crying I was in so much pain. Tried to lay down, but forget that it brought on even more pain. I started crying like a little girl and shaking I was so scared. For 5 days I have been trying to lay low, taking ibuprofen every 6 hrs, sleeping in a recliner, having my partner walk the dogs and take care of me… feels like my ribs under my left breast are broken or not connected somehow. I am fine if I just sit around but when I get up I take shallow breaths and find that I am holding my breath… protecting the ribs somehow. This is crazy and it sounds like it will Be this way for a few weeks…

    • bwedro@charter.net says:

      First reason to see a doc is to make certain that the lung underneath the rib injury is not damaged (bruised, collapsed). Second is for pain control to take deep breaths and prevent pneumonia.
      Hope you’re better

  19. Lara King says:

    I’m currently writing a book and the main character has broken his ribs, but his girlfriend had passed out and has no choice but to carry her to a hospital a few blocks out at 3 in the morning. How would that affect his condition?

    • bwedro@charter.net says:

      Unless there is a com0lication associated with the fractured ribs, like a collapsed or bruised lung, the major issue is pain. Lifting, carrying and for that matter taking deep breaths, would be a challenge. In times of crisis, though, people often overcome pain to do what needs to be done.

  20. Char Maguire says:

    THANK YOU!!! This is the most informative article I have been able to find after HOURS of reading! I tripped over a tree root 9 days ago while hiking, and came down hard with my rib hitting another tree root. Figured it was just bruised, continued my 8 mile hike. Got home and it just kept getting worse. Y’all know where I’m coming from here. After 9 days, I can take a deep breath without passing out, but it does still hurt. Walking hurts each time my left foot comes down (I hurt my left side). Hoped it wasn’t broken, but when I realized I’m still in quite a bit of pain after 9 days, figured I should check for some info on ribs. Your article was exactly what I needed! Now that I know it’s going to take a long time to heal, I can work around it. Great article, thanks so much!!!

  21. K says:

    About 3 months ago, I fell from about 10 feet onto a hard surface. Landed on my tailbone (which only hurt for a couple days, got better each day) But I also noticed after falling it hurt to breathe and immediately had a nurse at the scene check me out (I was at a gymnastics meet) she gave me some Advil told my mom to take me to the doctor. My mom said she would take me to the doctor the following morning, but my dad suggested we wait. So about 2-3 weeks later, I was still in pain so we finally went to get it checked out. The doctor asked me what hurts the rib (now keep in mind it didn’t hurt to breathe anymore, just do normal activities) and he felt around to make sure there was no damaged lungs and such. He ruled bruised rib. The injury occurred March 11, 2018. It is now June 2, 2018 and I’m still experiencing pain. I lost many of my gymnastics skills which has honestly put me in a somewhat depressed state. It hurts to bend or twist my body and do most of my skills. Sometimes it hurts to lay down. I have noticed that it hurts on the left side when I twist, but when I bend (such as a back handspring) my whole entire rib cage hurts, and I have to sit down for a few minutes to deal with the pain. I don’t think this is a bruised rib. Possible rib separation from the cartilage? Is it worth seeing a doctor again because it has been 12 weeks and I don’t want to be in this much pain anymore:((

  22. Evelyn Oliver says:

    K, i’ve Had rib injury 3 times. I had chiropractor adjustment to fix the twisted rib and this helped me.

    • bwedro@charter.net says:

      Respectfully, ribs can’t twist, but they can break. However, muscle and cartilage associated with the bony ribs can be damaged. Chiropractic care may be helpful

  23. Sally says:

    My experience nearly same as Toni Tiger from Jun 2017. I have bruised rib, not broken. Not sure if I pulled muscles in ribs or bruised lung. Pain started in front and moved to back. Also hurt shoulder. Breathing, coughing, driving (turns and bumps), laying down cause extraordinary pain. It’s been 3 weeks and I have moved from recliner to bed. I wake up each time I move. I was given same meds as Toni Tiger, but they didn’t do much and I ran out while still in significant pain. I now have lung infection, but pain is tolerable.

    I appreciate article and posts. I now know what is going on and what I can expect.

  24. Liz says:

    This seems one of the most helpful explanations I have found. Thank you.

  25. Toni Tiger says:

    I am Toni Tiger posting an update. It took me almost 6 weeks to heal… but finally heal I did..the pain stopped. In other news now I have terrible spasms in my ribs that I hurt often. The other day I had 3 spasms in a row so I just deal with it I don’t think anything can be done about it. It’s been a year and 3 months and I still have problems.

  26. Sue Anne Breen says:

    I heard my rib pop bending over washer put all my weight I guess I bruise the rib cage under my breast bone pain is gone but feels like something there when I stretch or cough but there is no pain what could it be just funny feeling

  27. LeeLund says:

    Great site.Tripped and fell one week ago. Pain migrated from back to front during past couple days. Then tonite for first time had spasms. Scary. Took breath away. Reading other shared experiences helping to relieve anxiety.

  28. Tracey says:

    I agree, best info i’ve found. I fell down my stairs 18 days ago & had immediate pain in my neck. Didn’t notice rib / side pain for about 2-3 days but it’s it hurts constantly, worse in the morning & of course when coughing. Sneezing? Forget it. I started to get concerned yesterday because I still have a horrible time sleeping & getting moving after 2 1/2 weeks. The pain radiates from the left side of my back around to the front. It’s comforting to read that this slow healing process is normal. Thanks

  29. Deanna says:

    Thank you so much, this is the best, most informative site I have found. I injured my rib during a fall while hiking about 3 weeks ago. Pain had gotten more tolerable in the last few days so I was back to work as a teacher. Then 2 days ago it flared up and got much worse. Xrays didn’t really show anything. I was given a steriod/toradol shot which only helped minimally. Starting a course of oral steroids tomorrow. Was also given a muscle relaxer, but it gives me headaches so I’d rather just use OtC pain meds. Ice pack helps some, and sleeping is difficult. I really appreciate all the comments here, thanks to everyone!

  30. Paul says:

    Hi,
    My horse reared and rolled back and over me (the reason I didn’t bail is that I was saving him from certain death from backing over a cliff.) Anyway it was super painful but figured I should work throughout the pain. That was a Saturday. Monday morning in ER. Two fractured ribs and large chest contusion from the saddle horn. Intense pain but learning what I can and cannot due. A week has gone by and the breaks don’t hurt unless I cough but the cartilage seems all squishy like there is nothing holding my ribs and sternum together. CT scan said everything looked ok except the bruise and breaks. Friend who is a trauma radiologist said it will just be painful. I’m hoping in a couple of weeks my chest will not feel so loose. Only taking alieve and one valume at night to help sleep. Better and better each day.

  31. julie Schmitt says:

    Crashed on my MTB. Landed on my side with my arm tucked in high. Took breath away at first, felt like a vice grip on left side of chest for awhile, but a week later I can take deep breaths and hold it. I can stretch out my arms above head, and walk trails without pain. My question is – I feel little clunking with minimal mvmt at times. Should I be concerned with this mvmt and the healing process or is this pretty normal. I know big breaths are important and I will continue to so so, but should i try to minimize mvmt otherwise or go about normal activity as best as possible.

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      The key to preventing the complication of pneumonia is taking deep breaths. Those routine and regular deep breaths are a priority.
      That clunk you are feeling May be the edges of a broken rib running against each other. This will gradually resolve with healing.
      Activity that you can do with mild discomfort is probably alright, but you may get muscle spasm and tightness the day after, if you overdo it.
      As with all advice you read online, please contact your medical provider To discuss your specific situation.

  32. Anna says:

    Fell directly on my chest on my hardwood floors 3 weeks ago, worst pain of my life. Knock the wind out of me, had to sleep sitting up, sleep with pillows around me on left side the right side was unbearable, I had to hold my chest in when walking and to get out of bed. I purposely didn’t cough or sneeze for a week. I decided not to go to the ER because of the pandemic, everything I read online said the same thing about healing. I finally was able to drive this week and I’m feeling a lot better, my left side of chest feels fine, middle sore to touch and right side still has pain. I can’t lay on my stomach or back yet. I’m practicing deep breathes. The only thing is it feels like my right side is blocked or a lot of pressure kind of tight if that makes sense.

  33. Sally says:

    Exact same experience for me a year ago.

    I did get pain meds, which at time, I didn’t think they helped. However, when ran out of prescription, I realized that they were helping significantly.

    I was in pain that kept me from normal activities for 2 months. It took 5+ months to be pain free.

  34. Kathi Moore says:

    So glad I “fell” onto this site! This article aligns with what i was told in the ER last week. I am 65, thrown from a cranky horse named Dudley and feel grateful to have escaped with fractured ribs 5-9 and a small pneumothorax. Luckily, I didn’t need a chest tube, stayed in hospital 2 days. I have a nursing background and knew what i needed to show them to be released. Luckily I have never had a broken bone, trauma or breathing issues. All that said, I am beginning week two and feel confused. Was reassured that the pain was not an indicator that i was further injuring myself, but yet i feel so guarded. Hate taking the pain meds but the emphasis on their short term benefits was stressed over and over. I relied on the oxycodone and tylenol for first two days, but felt it just made me lethargic and sleepy. Started a regimen of the ibuprofen and tylenol. I see someone above is taking aleve with good results so I may switch to that since I have used it in the past with success.
    I feel like pain has been downgraded to discomfort. Problem is I can’t get comfortable. I sleep well, but man getting out of bed in the morning is tricky at best. Can’t really bend either. Something falls on the floor, it’s dead to me [unless it’s the remote or cell phone!]. I initially came to the internet to see if I could find some recommended stretching b/c my back muscles hurt from sitting, resting and overcompensating for general muscle tension.
    Reading your experiences has been just what i needed! Thanks so much for sharing. You have lifted me up and given me real perspective. xo

  35. Taylor Ahl says:

    Hi, thank you for all the info! Have had a similar issue but I was doing decline bench press about a week and a half ago and as I stretched for my sets it hurt to stretch out in my upper chest above my nipple on my left side. (2nd and 3rd rib area). Since then I have not been able to do push ups, or any chest exercises. Even pushing off my left foot to run hurts. The pain is very localized with no range of motion loss. Hurts worse when I lay down, and when I use my left hand to try to prop or push myself up. Hurts to cough or laugh. Any ideas on this particular localized pain? Could it be a bruised rib from lifting weights? Thank you for your help.

  36. Thomas says:

    Glad to have found this informative page. I’m in my late 40’s and on my fourth day of recovery from a slow speed motorcycle mishap were I sustained fractured ribs and some head trauma. After receiving a CT scan, x-rays and EKG in the ER, I was released with a hydrocodone prescription and Lidocaine patch prescription.

    Attempting to lay down is not even a consideration for me know. Anything below a 60 degree incline is causing a focused muscle pain in my upper leftside chest that seems to run up to my shoulder and underarm. The tightness can be unbearable at times. Having a hiccup or laughing is not a pleasant experience. I have also experienced Vertigo when laying down from my head trauma which is literally 10-30 seconds of terror.

    Standing, walking and sitting are relatively pain-free activities. Reclining beyond a certain point is were the pain comes into play. I have only used the Lidocaine patches twice which I can’t say they are effective. I haven’t used the hydrocodone prescription. I have been alternating between ibuprofen and Tylenol which seems to have little affect on pain. I noticed someone mentioned Alieve which is naproxen. I plan on making the switch as only naproxen seems to do the trick on me when I have a normal headache. I also purchased an inexpensive breathing training device which is helping force me to do breathing exercises. I thought I was doing deep breathing exercises but I was surprised to find out how far off I was.

    The biggest relief for me, beyond my family of course, is an old Homemedics zero-gravity chair I had in my basement. It allows be to stop at any possible incline and has been the lifesaver these past few days. I ordered a wedge pillow but I’m still days away from testing it out.

    While I can’t lift my left arm above my head yet I was doing some minor movement exercises and heard/felt some crunching it my shoulder area and I was totally pain-free for several minutes and was able to lift my hand above my head. I was so disappointed that it didn’t last.

    I’m early into my recovery but I know this is only temporary. I wish those that are experiencing similar pain a speedy recovery.

  37. Mark Kennard says:

    I have found sleeping with hand up behind head if possible removes difficulty with breathing. I sleep on a mattress on the floor as its impossible to get out of a normal bed. Ebike into tree at speed. .. 59 but ride like a 30 yo. I need to slow down. Hope this helps.

  38. Angie says:

    10/21/20 2:47 am. Thanks y’all. Great reading when you are awake in the wee hours with the same pain as everyone else. Hope all are well. Great thread!

  39. Ann says:

    Broken ribs right side, back. Grinding/ clicking noise upon inale and exhalation…???

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      You’re feeling the broken rib edges moving back and forth against each other with each breath. As the brown ribs heal, this sensation will stop.
      Hope you heal quickly.

  40. Janet says:

    Broke ribs 8,9 and 10 on back, left when I fell and hit my back/ribs on the gunnel of our boat. Thought i would add some tips and timeline of my experience thus far (almost 2.5 weeks into recovery). My injury is lower and posterior vs a chest injury, so I did not have the problem with breathing pain (unless very deep) after the first few hours. My difficulty was primarily finding a comfortable position to sit, lay down and especially sleep. First week was the worst with day 3 being extremely difficult for some reason. After first week things improved daily. I can now walk 30 min., drove a few miles for first time (getting in/out of car for ER visit was excruciating on day of injury), can do light housework (cook, dishes, laundry), and can even do a slow breast stroke swim using a snorkel. Sharp pain has been replaced with more of a cramping, pinching discomfort unless I sneeze (avoid at all costs!). Tips I found helpful…use multiple pillows to cushion your whole upper half of body. A pillow under my hips helps keep weight off my back. I slept on back with head raised on couch for 2 weeks. Easier to get up from than bed and I used the pillow back of couch to pull myself up to stand. The lazy boy chair just wasn’t comfortable for me, although others have found it useful. Ladies, skip the bra. I only wear one (purchased larger size) if going out in public. The pressure around ribcage is not comfortable. I did however, use a sacrum belt around my hips the first week to give me some added support and take pressure off my core. Bend your knees if you must pick something up. I can now bend somewhat, but I did deep knee bends or used my feet to pick things up off floor for first week. I was only given 600mg ibuprofen for pain. It was not enough the first week…started alternating 2 extra strength tylenol 4 hrs after taking the ibuprofen. Am still taking both meds but in lower doses. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Best of luck and quick healing to everyone dealing with this painful injury. Ranks right up there with childbirth and kidney stones in my experience.

  41. Jen says:

    So grateful for this site! Read every single post! I bent over to adjust my boot on a ski slope and felt a pop on my lower right side by my ribs. Pain was excruciating! Not sure what happened, but so hard to move, sleep or breathe well. I now know I’m in for a long haul of healing and recovery. I’m going to focus on deep breathing, and relaxing through the pain, as I have caught myself holding my breath and finding my shoulders into my neck trying to deal with the pain. Thanks!

  42. Sandra Barnes says:

    I fell today and hurt my ribs. It is super painful to stand up and bend over. I am allergic to any insaids. Can I get a cortisone shot or something else. I would like to go back to work by Monday, but as a teacher I have to think quickly so no drugs.

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      I’m sorry that you’re injured. Cortisone won’t work for your injury.elite athletes sometimes get a local anesthetic injected into the area of their injury to al ow them back into the game, but that relief is short lived and lasts anltyt a few hours. If is not without complications…Tyrod Taylor, San Diego Charger quarterback, received such an injection that caused a pneumothorax (collapsed lung).
      Sadly, your best alternative is a non-NSAID pain medication and time.
      And thank you for your work i note classroom.
      BW

  43. Esther A Paris says:

    Thank you for your article. A few years ago I took a fall and had “chest wall contusion”. I was out of work for weeks and weeks! I too work in a classroom, with students who have behavioral problems. Being out so long was really a big deal. Two days ago I took another fall, and again landed on my own fist embedded into my ribs. Dang, does this hurt!! X-ray revealed no break. But I gather from this article that non-breaks hurt just as much as breaks. I am supposed to return to work next week, and I hope I can. But YOWZA! This REALLY hurts. I see my Physiatrist this afternoon; I am hopeful he can help. I, too, cannot use NSAIDs. Begging God I won’t be out of work for 6-8 weeks like last time. Cruel Irony – we had just gotten back into the classroom after a long REMOTE period due to COVID. Day 3 and I’m out. Ugh!

  44. Kristine says:

    I fell asleep on a remote control in bed for a few hours the pain was intense When I woke …the bruising is the size of my hand and now that it’s healing there’s a lump in the bruise … since then (10 days ago ) the pain is shooting all over my left side up through my chest … I’m not one to take medicine but I have been using heating pad to ease pain and a glass of wine … not sure if doctor can do anything so I’ll wait a little longer …

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      Please remember to seek medical care if the pain worsen or you develop fever, cough or shortness of breath.
      Inability to take deep breaths can lead to pneumonia (an infection of the lung)

  45. Kendra Mejia says:

    Kendra (61 year old female) 26January 2021
    It was good to read this site and be comforted that others have gone through what I have. I fell in my backyard two weeks ago after rolling in an awning during a wind storm and stepping wrong and went down hard on two cement steps. I took myself to the ER because I thought I broke my left wrist and injured my right knee. My husband has a tib/fib fracture and I am the sole driver to take him to dr apts so I just can’t be injured. I also complained of chest pain on my right side but they did not examine nor X-ray my chest. Luckily I only ended up with severe contusions on my wrist and knee and had braces given.

    I didn’t begin to have severe chest pain until a few days later, which went from front to back. I already have oxcodon and tramadol for neuropathy and muscle relaxers so I took tramadol and muscle relaxers during the day and added Tylenol/ibuprofen as well for the inflammation. It’s been two weeks now and I can take deeper breaths when sitting up but if I try to move around and clean, take care of my dogs, cook, I start having more intense pain. Sleeping is terrible.

    I feel much better reading this site. I knew that more than likely I hade bruised ribs and it would take awhile to heal and I had to force myself to take deep breaths so I didn’t get pneumonia (I’ve had 3 c/sections) but I wasn’t sure how long this pain normally lasts and if it was normal for difficult sleeping but to read people’s experiences makes me realize that what I am experiencing is normal.

    Now if I just stop falling!

  46. Danny Wright says:

    I had a bad fall 4 weeks to the day and was told by ER Dr nothing broke and more than likely damaged the cartilage. Sent me home to take ibuprofen and Tylenol. Now 4 weeks later im back in a lot of pain and not sure if i need to go back to Dr or just tough it out. Any helpful insight would be greatly appreciated

  47. KG says:

    3 weeks ago I broke three ribs. Ribs 7, 8, and 9. I fell hitting the corner of a 2 ft. tall credenza..I .bruised in one place. Went to ER where I was X-rayed. Nothing found. What I have learned is 25 to 50% of the time fractures can not be seen by x-ray. No pain meds were give. Because one of my lungs looked suspicious to my primary care provider, she ordered a CT. The CT showed 3 broken ribs. I was surprised but the level of pain that I was in, it made sense.
    At 3 weeks post injury, That terrible sharp knife pain has resolved. Now it is a deep and dull pain. A reminder that I’m still healing. I envision my ribs being knitted together.
    .If I over do it, I imagine the bones pulling a part and won’t mend efficiently.
    I am not driving, and I am not doing much physically. I have read plenty accounts of broken rib patients who continue to have pain months and months after injury. I believe I can avoid that by allowing ribs to fully heal as soon as possible.
    I will continue to take it easy and slow.

  48. NIKOLAI MIKKELSEN says:

    I cracked a lower rib about six weeks back. Pain was pretty miserable and had a hard time sleeping, getting out of bed, rolling over etc. The pain has subsided now but still have a dull ache. I noticed that the rib feels misshapen like it has a detent in it or one part has like knot. Is this normal?

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      This is normal. The misshapen feeling may be a callus (extra bone that the body lays down to repair the fracture) or it could be scarring from surrounding muscle tissue.
      Over time, the thickened area should resolve but that time is measured in weeks and months, not days.

  49. A Richards says:

    My husband fell of a ladder about 20 ft on May 1. Broke his upper left arm, 4 ribs on left side (7,8,9,10) & fractured his pelvis. Was in the hospital trauma icu & room for 7 days & rehab for 6 days. Sent home to recover & start PT & OT outpatient. He was doing pretty good until yesterday when he had to go see one of his dr about an hour from our house. Last night he started having really bad pains in his ribs area & today has been in excruciating pain & has not been able to get out of his recliner where he has been sleeping since he came home. He is taking Norco & muscle relaxers & Tylenol (650mg) but this pain has not subsided. There are times when he says he can’t catch his breath. We have also been trying ice packs but nothing seems to help. I know it will be a long recovery but is there anything more I can do for him? It hurts my heart to see him in all this pain.

  50. Esther Paris says:

    My injury was nowhere near as extensive as your husband’s. My pain doctor did Trigger point injections in my rib muscles. This helped me quite a bit. I could breathe better. Just FYI.

  51. Kyle R Taylor says:

    My 16 year old boy has a rib injury from a soccer camp that was 3 weeks ago. He is still in some pain. He just started back in the gym to get ready for another camp in a couple of weeks. I am assuming that if he can deal with the pain that it will be okay to start back conditioning?

  52. Had a high speed crash (20mph) on my road bike during a race and fractured clavicle, fractured body of scapula and fractured ribs 2, 3 and 4. Had x-rays and straight to CT to check for internal injuries due to nature of the injury. Thankfully all were non-displaced and there was no internal injuries. I was put in a sling to wear for 2-3 weeks and some exercises to do. Sleeping flat impossible so sleep was got sitting up in bouts of 1-2 hours. Kept active from day 2 onwards by walking every day and went onto my stationary bike trainer from day 4. The majority of pain I felt was from my shoulder really, ribs were more like a dull ache unless I coughed etc but they were still manageable (I do have a high pain tolerance.). However, after 2 weeks I experienced the most excruciating pain in the left of my chest (ALL my fractures are on the right side.) This pain was worse than all the fractures put together and stabbed severely as soon as I took a breath, as soon as I moved and seemed to come on if I talked too much also. Had to get Out of Hours medical help (but couldn’t drive and nobody to help as hubby had a knee op). Was given Naproxin (already using dehydrocodeine) which seemed to take the edge off. GP the next morning who suspected my body had been compensating for all the injuries on the R side so I was now having pain on the L of the chest. She has ordered a chest x-ray to be on the safe side but did say that my breathing sounded normal (typically, breathing in caused no sharp pain whilst I was in at the GP as the painkillers were kicking in.) Since this date, I have been back to being unable to recline to sleep and have to sleep upright again. This was 3 days ago and is only starting to settle now. Is it possible that I could develop a partial pneumothorax 2 weeks after all these fractures? And if I did have a very slight, partial pneumothorax would that show on a chest x-ray a week later? Would my GP not have been able to tell by listening to my chest? I’m just concerned as the new pain is on the L side. It has since eased considerably and I don’t have any breathing issues. Although I do find myself having to stop and just catch my breath / take one large deep breathe. But I’m not breathless as in panting etc.

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      You’ve had a journey! I hope your recovery continues until you’re normal.
      As for your question about pneumothorax (collapsed lung) detection. A plain chest X-ray can miss a small pneumothorax. Small ones can be detected on CT scan or by ultrasound, but unless there is a change in status, like increased shortness of breath, a small pneumothorax is usually followed clinically without need of imaging

  53. Jake says:

    Just about 2 weeks into a 8,9,10th rib fracture. 1 minimally displaced. The pain is what it is. Not terrible except when moving at night. The fatigue/tightness in my back is what is really bothering me. IT seems to appear around 4-6pm and continue through the overnight, causing major discomfort when sleeping. I’m thinking it’s from the guarding and compensating all day. I have a prescription fro a muscle relaxant but I have not taken it yet. Would this ghelp? I’m not taking any other meds for it. Thanks! Jake

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      Studies that have looked at the benefit of muscle relaxant medication have shown that they are less than helpful and do not help healing or pain

  54. Just about 2 weeks into a 8,9,10th rib fracture. 1 minimally displaced. The pain is what it is. Not terrible except when moving at night. The fatigue/tightness in my back is what is really bothering me. IT seems to appear around 4-6pm and continue through the overnight, causing major discomfort when sleeping. I’m thinking it’s from the guarding and compensating all day. I have a prescription fro a muscle relaxant but I have not taken it yet. Would this ghelp? I’m not taking any other meds for it. Thanks! Jake

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      Questions about medication should be addressed to your health care provider. Sorry 🙂

      I thing you’re probably right, the the muscles get tired because they have to constantly work to keep the injured area stable. night time pain is routine with rib fractures, and sleeping in a chair often helps. It easier to breathe when sitting upright, instead of laying flat because you don’t have to make your chest rise against gravity

  55. Janet Lawton says:

    I fractured my 8,9 and 10 as well almost a year ago. I found the best way to sleep was on my back on a couch with a ton of pillows for the first couple of weeks. Things should get better soon…I found a definite relief of pain and better sleep between week 2 and 3. I took ibuprofen or tylenol etc consistently for a few weeks and had an ambient prescription which helped significantly for sleep. Such relief when I could finally sleep on my side again, I am not a back sleeper at all! Good luck.

  56. Christy S. says:

    I like many found this the most informative read. My only reason for commenting is to share how I got my injury because it’s different. I was skinning a boar. I use gardening limb loppers to separate the hoof from the ham, it usually takes me a couple few tries. Somehow they slipped out of my left hand and into what I thought was my collarbone. Turns out it was my 2nd and 3rd ribs…. I’m 4days in and this pain is unlike anything I’ve experienced.

  57. Esther Paris says:

    Christy, I am so sorry! Hurt ribs are definitely a “number 10” on the pain scale!

  58. Brian mcnary says:

    I feel on my skateboard two weeks . I did not go to the doctor as I have heard there aid nothing they can do . My pain is barely there now but my rib seems to be slightly raised higher then my other ribs . Will this return to normal on its own ? Thank you .

    • Dr. Wedro says:

      Presuming that you broke the rib, the body may lay down extra bone to help heal the area and over time it may remodel, or it may remain misshapen. That said, any abnormal bumps or lumps in the body should be checked out by your health care provider. Please do not ignore it.

  59. Stacy says:

    I broke 4 ribs 3 days ago, tripping over my sleeping pup. It was 4:30 AM and didn’t see him on the floor. I am experiencing spasms that run up and down my left side…almost paralyzing me. The pain of the broken ribs is very strong. I ruptured my achilles 9 months ago…15 weeks in a cast, surgery, PT, and the ribs is far more difficult and painful! Thanks for all the help on this site! I am taking Oxy and muscle relaxers, but they aren’t really touching the pain. I’m praying that the IBU will be enough after a few days.

  60. Sharon says:

    Thanks to all who have contributed to this excellent post. I was injured nearly 2 weeks ago doing a demanding spinning machine (speedbag) workout. I’m almost embarrassed because so many of you had severe accidents. I was also coughing heavily during the workout (recovering from the flu). My pain is on left side, underarm & below left breast. I found relief when coughing/sneezing by holding my left arm up in the air. Cough is gone now, thank God. When I stand & sit I feel healed… but pain reappears when I lie flat on my back. I’ve never had breathing issues. The pain is a bit better now. I found relief soaking in the Pool of Bethesda (my bathtub), ocassional warm gel pack & sometimes using 3 strips of kinesiology tape on ribs under my arm for support (non-constricting). I’ve started walking outdoors for exercise. This article & comments have comforted & encouraged me. One day soon I will be back in the gym… but I won’t rush. One day at a time.

  61. Sharon says:

    UPDATE: It has now been 25 days since my upper body workout injury. For the first time in nearly a month I am feeling human again. Doctor figured it is likely either costochondritis or stress fraction. When I saw a clear diagram of a rib cage I saw precisely where my pain was radiating from – rib 5 costachondral junction. It radiated from rib area below left breast upward & around to area below left armpit. My healing process has been:

    * Severe alarming pain few hours after workout
    * to moderate pain when coughing & lying flat
    * to annoying pressure in some positions
    * to only a bad memory.

    I’m not quite to “memory'” stage, but right on the brink. I walk daily now, lift very light weights & will gradually increase. I am so thankful to God for His healing & already find myself on a new committed path of eating better (whole food plant based), slowing down, praying more & learning to listening.

    God is a gracious Father.

  62. Melissa Buchanan says:

    My chiropractor CAUSED my pain.
    I went to a chiropractor for the first time ever 4 days ago, with plantar fasciitis, really tight muscles and back pain from standing at a computer and not being as active as I had been pre-pandemic. I felt a strange painful crack in my ribs [right side) when she adjusted me pushing downward on my ribcage laying on my side. It was sore afterwards, and has only gotten worse. It started as a continuous soreness that became much more continuously intense as time passed and then add sharp and stabby when I breathe deep or cough. I also have mild asthma and got a cold within a day with a relentless wheezy cough, so it’s been continuous pain. Trying to breathe deep, and taking ibuprofen to help me do so without excruciating pain, but it’s not helping. Belly breathing is the ONLY way I can get a deep breath and mitigate the pain, but it’s a conscious decision to breathe that way, not a natural go to. The rib pain is about half way down the ribs (right side) under the breast. I’m coughing a lot and can’t find a position to sleep in without sleeping almost upright, which is a struggle for a side sleeper like me.

  63. Sharon says:

    Melissa, be patient. It took nearly a month for my ribs to improve (started in March 22). I had to sleep propped up on pillows to alleviate pain. I had to raise up my arm above my head whenever I coughed. I feel soooo much better now. It only reminds me of the past pain if/when I lift gym upperbody weights too heavy. If it hasn’t healed yet, it will eventually… and you’ll be dancing for joy & thanking God!

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