How to treat fractured ribs

Updated February 21, 2017

Fractured ribs, which are also sometimes referred to as broken ribs, denote an extremely painful condition in which the bone tissue or cartilage of the ribs has been fractured. This causes moderate-to-severe pain in most sufferers. Another thing that makes the condition so difficult is that it generally takes more than a month and a half to heal and can be very painful throughout. There are, however, certain ways of treating your fractured ribs to help speed recovery and limit your chances of complications such as pneumonia.

If you feel that you have sustained an injury severe enough to have possibly fractured your ribs, seek immediate medical attention. Such injuries can also often cause internal bleeding and damage vital organs.

After you've been diagnosed with fractured ribs, begin your treatment by icing the affected area once every 1 to 2 hours for about 20 minutes at a stretch. This process may be very painful, but it will help speed recovery and will mitigate pain in the end.

Take over-the-counter pain medication, or ask your physician to prescribe you a stronger medication to help manage your pain. This will not only help minimise the pain your fractured ribs cause you, but it will also permit you to do what you need to do to get better faster.

Take a deep breath, as deep as you can bear, 3 to 5 times an hour while recovering from fractured ribs. This will be painful but is necessary to help you avoid pneumonia. Your health care provider may give you a small machine to breathe into to help you keep track of how deep you are able to breathe and to provide incentive to breathe deeper. Because of the pain of fractured ribs, the ability to breathe deeply can be hampered. Pneumonia can occur after broken ribs if the lungs are not exercised and opened to full capacity regularly.


  • Don't let your pain catch up with your medication. Even if you aren't in pain yet, take your pain medication as soon as it indicates you can do so. If the pain catches up with you then you may be in agony while you wait half an hour for your fresh pain pills to dissolve and begin to work.
  • To lessen your pain while sleeping, try lying on your injured side. This will often alleviate some of the worst pain involved in lying prone.


  • Don't wrap your body with constricting tape. Although this used to be a common practice in the treatment of fractured ribs, and despite the fact that it significantly lessens pain levels, it shouldn't be done because it increases the odds of developing pneumonia and other breathing conditions and will slow healing.

Things You'll Need

  • Ice packs
  • Over-the-counter pain medication
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About the Author

A legal clerk and law school student at The Thomas M. Cooley School of Law who lives in southeastern Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree in English from Western Michigan University. Geoffrey has over a decade of experience working as a freelance writer and has completed hundreds of articles during that time.