Management of a fractured rib

Fact Checked

A fractured rib involves a break in one of the bones in the rib cage. A disruption in the cartilage or thick tissue that attaches the ribs to the breastbone can be considered as a fractured rib, even if the bone is not fragmented.

[youtube url=””]

A fractured rib can be caused by a direct blow to the chest such as during vehicular accidents or a fall while playing contact sports.  A forceful cough, routine twisting or lifting can cause damage to the rib especially among those who are suffering from a disease that weakens the bones such as osteoporosis or cancer. Broken ribs will heal on their own in 1-2 months if the affected person is healthy. In some cases, a fructured rib can puncture or damage some the underlying internal organs such as the lungs which is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Indications of a fractured rib

  • Pain while breathing
  • Mild to severe pain in the affected area
  • Pain around the fracture site when pressure is placed on the breastbone
    Fractured rib
    Pain while breathing
  • Due to the injury, there is shortness of breath, headache, feeling tired, dizzy or sleepy as well as feeling anxious, restless or scared.


  • Take time to rest and relax. If there is pain while lying on the back, sit in a recliner or a chair to allow the ribs plenty of time to heal.
  • Take the prescribed pain and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen to lessen the pain and inflammation. If there is severe pain, a stronger pain medication that contains codeine can be used.
  • Place adhesive medical tape about 1-2 inches wide above the fractured rib. Run the tape on the rib up to the center of the back. Avoid wrapping the tape around the body to prevent problems with breathing. Put a piece of tape on each fractured rib for stabilization and prevent unnecessary movement as well as minimize the pain. If medical tape is not available, place the arm in a sling and place it against the fractured rib to temporarily function as a brace.
  • Apply an ice pack, frozen gel pack or bag of frozen vegetable on the affected rib for at least 20 minutes every hour on the first 2 days after the injury. After 2 days, reduce to 10-20 minutes at least 3 times every day to lessen the swelling and pain. Ice constricts the vessels of blood which numbs the surrounding nerves and reduces the inflammation. Avoid applying the ice pack directly on the affected area. You have to wrap the ice pack in a towel or thin cloth before applying on the area to prevent the risk for frostbite.
  • When sneezing or coughing, hold a soft pillow against the chest to cushion the blow and lessen the pain.
  • Eat a well balanced diet which is needed so that the broken bone can heal properly. A balanced diet must be rich in minerals and vitamins such as whole grains, lean meats, dairy products and plenty of water.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Call Now Button

  • All content is reviewed by a medical professional and / sourced to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

  • We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable websites, academic research institutions and medical articles.

  • If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact us through our contact us page.

The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
If you need medical advice or help with a diagnosis contact a medical professional