A broken rib presents an almost unique healing problem. Because the rib cage expands and contracts with each breath, the broken rib cannot be immobilized for fast healing. But broken ribs do heal in time. To cope with a broken rib, use these steps.
- Skill level:
Get plenty of rest. The body needs care to heal and in the case of a broken rib, resting puts less stress on the rib cage. Avoid physical activities, such as sports, that might cause further stress or damage to the rib.
Care for the lungs. A deep breath might cause discomfort, but fully inflating the lungs is important to prevent pneumonia. Talk to the doctor about breathing exercises when recovering from a broken rib.
Take pain medication. A doctor can advise on the correct pain medication to take for any discomfort from a broken rib. Let the doctor know if the medication is not controlling the pain.
Ask how to lie down. If there are no back or neck injuries along with the broken rib, a doctor may suggest lying on the side with the broken rib. This allows the uninjured side to expand more easily for deeper breathing.
Eat well. A good, balanced diet will help the body heal.
Check on other injury treatments. Some doctors recommend a chest binder, which protects the chest and injured rib. Talk to a doctor about heat therapy, such as a heating pad, to help healing. Cold therapy may also be recommended.
Be patient. Ribs may take 3 to 6 weeks to heal completely.
Tips and warnings
- Always contact a doctor immediately if a high fever or cough develops or if the cough yields bloody or thick sputum. Seek immediate care, such as an emergency room visit, if the pain gets worse; if there is vomiting, nausea or abdominal pain; or if there is trouble breathing.