Broken, cracked and bruised ribs exhibit similar symptoms, although broken and fractured ribs will hurt a good deal more than bruised ribs and will take much longer to heal. Cracked or fractured ribs are essentially broken ribs, but are not as dangerous as a rib that has broken into pieces, which could pierce vital organs. Caring for these types of injuries require the same treatment: adequate pain medication to ensure continued deep breathing, rest, ice packs on the injury to control swelling and pain, and to limit activities until the injury has healed.
Note your symptoms. Broken and bruised ribs will both cause pain when you breathe deeply, twist or turn the torso, or press the ribs. If you have recently experienced a trauma to your chest area and experience pain with breathing, pay attention to that pain's severity.
Get medical attention if you suspect your ribs are broken. A rib broken into pieces can pierce blood vessels and major internal organs such as an aorta or lungs, liver, spleen or kidneys. While the treatment of broken, fractured and bruised ribs is the same, more caution should be taken with broken ribs, as the potential for severe complications are greater.
Apply an ice pack on the injury to reduce swelling and pain. Use the ice for 20 minutes at a time every couple of hours. After a few days of ice treatment, you may begin to use heat to help heal bruising by placing a warm to hot washcloth over the ribs.
Get adequate pain medication so that you can breathe deeply. If you do not breathe properly, pneumonia can set in. While it will be painful to take deep breaths, it is necessary. Over-the-counter pain medication such as NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), or aspirin will help control pain. Ask your doctor for a stronger prescription painkiller if necessary.
Eat well and supplement your diet. Broken and bruised bones and cartilage need certain components. You will heal faster if you provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs through better nutrition.
Get adequate rest. Lying down may be painful, but making sure you get enough rest is important. While your ribs heal, curtail any strenuous activities.
Be aware that the time required to heal bruised ribs is usually a week or two. Broken or fractured ribs will take much longer, often up to two months. Continue with pain medication as needed.