How to treat a bruised rib

Updated March 23, 2017

While bruised or broken ribs are common injuries, your doctor will want to make certain that there is no lung damage. Not only will he or she listen to your chest, your health care provider may order a chest x-ray as well. Although rib injuries cause pain when you move and may be accompanied by a shortness of breath, treatment is fairly simple, as fractured ribs must be left to heal on their own.

Apply ice over the injured area to help ease pain and decrease swelling. You may need to continue this treatment for 48 hours or more until the tenderness begins to subside. At the same time, be careful about your movements, particularly any stretching of the muscles in the rib cage area. Avoid overexerting the injured ribs. Do only as much as feels comfortable.

Take an over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen to help relieve pain. In some cases, and depending on the severity of your pain and your ability to move, your doctor may prescribe a stronger narcotic medication for a few days. Minimise movements and rest as often as possible until the pain is gone.

One of the best ways to prevent pneumonia, frequently a major complication following an injury to the ribs, is to perform deep breathing exercises. Take in a slow deep breath through your nose and hold for 3 to 6 seconds. Exhale slowly, repeating 5 to 10 times. Force yourself to cough afterward. Do these exercises every hour or two throughout the day to keep the lungs moving.

Gentle stretching exercises will help your rib cage regain elasticity once the injury begins to heal. Although the goal of exercise is to strengthen the muscles in this region of the trunk, do not push yourself too hard, as you could do more damage. Stretch only as far as you can stretch comfortably.


The healing of ribs can be a slow process, often taking up to 6 weeks, but eventually broken ribs will move back into place on their own. Rib fractures no longer are immobilised by wrapping or taping. Although this technique may provide some comfort and relief from pain, it increases the risk for pneumonia or lung collapse.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice
  • Ibuprofen
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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.