About bruised ribs

Written by carole ellis
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About bruised ribs
(x - ray image by Sandor Kacso from Fotolia.com)

Bruised ribs can be hard to deal with as they heal, largely because there is little that you can do to accelerate the healing process. Many different types of activities and accidents can result in this painful condition. If you suspect that you have bruised ribs, you should consult your physician immediately so that you do not cause greater damage or pain to yourself as they heal.


Your ribs are the bones in your body that protect your heart and lungs. Twenty-four ribs form your rib cage. Rib injuries can be extremely painful because your ribs move each time you breathe.


When your ribs are subject to impact from a hard object, the muscles that surround them get bruised. In fact, the actual injured part of your body is the muscles around your ribs rather than the bones themselves.This bruising can be very painful and can seriously impact your level of physical activity as well as your long-term respiratory habits.


Injured ribs are fairly easy to identify. The real question will be whether they are bruised, cracked or broken. You may need to get a chest X-ray to determine this, or your health care provider may be able to palpate (feel) a fracture or the absence of one. Bruised ribs are characterised by serious pain with every breath because your ribs move every time you breathe. As a result, bruised ribs will hurt almost constantly and may make it difficult for you to draw a deep breath. Also, there may be visible bruising on your rib cage where you experienced the original trauma, as this type of blow is generally fairly severe.

Your health care provider will want to listen to your lungs to be sure no damage was done to the lungs when the injury occurred. He will also check whether the injury caused damage to the liver and spleen, which are also protected by the rib cage.


Once your ribs are bruised, there is very little that can be done to make them heal faster. Your doctor may prescribe a pain reliever. It is important that you continue to breathe regularly even though it hurts, because taking shallow breaths can easily become a habit during the healing process. That can lead to serious respiratory problems and even pneumonia over time.

Time Frame

When you sustain injury to your ribs, you will likely know it immediately because of the pain. You should see a doctor as soon as possible to ascertain whether your ribs are bruised or actually broken. Injured ribs--bruised or broken--will likely take anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks to heal.

Expert Insight

Generally, doctors do not recommend that you wrap an injured rib cage--as had been traditional practice in treating rib injuries--because wrapping restricts breathing. However, you can ice the ribs for 20 minutes at a time over the first three to four days of the healing process. Also, ask your physician about wearing a rib belt, which will support your ribs without restricting your movement. If you wear this type of support, however, you must be very careful not to limit your breathing unconsciously.


If you suspect that you have a rib injury, do not attempt to "play through it" or treat it yourself without being examined by a doctor. Broken or cracked ribs can seriously injure your lungs and heart if you do not take care of them. Excessive exercise during this time or lifting weights can not only delay the healing process, it can also result in ribs that do not heal in alignment, a permanent health issue that cannot be repaired and can cause intermittent or constant pain and respiratory problems throughout the remainder of your life.

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