Rib cages and the muscles surrounding the ribs are prone to injury. Once you injure them, sometimes it is difficult to tell whether you have broken a bone or pulled a muscle. Telling the difference, however, is necessary for receiving the correct treatment. Although in the same general area, a bone injury on the rib cage is treated differently than a pulled muscle and a pulled muscle differently than even a torn muscle. Knowing the difference can help you decide whether you need to go to a doctor and help find the correct treatment for a faster healing process.
Think of how you got the injury. Pulled rib muscles most often occur during a sport where your body is twisted forcefully. Golf and tennis are two of the sports that most often cause this injury along with football, basketball and baseball. If you received your injury in an impact situation, you are more likely to have a bruised or broken rib.
Feel between the ribs with your fingers in the general area of pain. If it is a pulled rib muscle the tenderness will be between instead of on the ribs.
Eliminate any of the other, more serious rib injuries. Severe pain will indicate a broken rib or a separated rib. If you have pain while breathing this also indicates a separated rib as opposed to a pulled muscle. These injuries will take longer to heal.
If you think you have one or more broken ribs, seek medical help immediately. Another blow to the rib cage could cause further injury to the ribs or puncture a lung.