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Bruised Rib: Care Instructions

Chest showing ribs, sternum, and cartilage

Overview

You can get a bruised rib if you fall or get hit, such as while playing sports. The medical term for a bruise is "contusion." Small blood vessels get torn and leak blood under the skin.

Most people think of a bruise as a black-and-blue area. But bones and muscles can also get bruised. An injury may damage the rib but not cause a bruise that you can see.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a rib is bruised or broken. The symptoms may be the same. And a broken bone can't always be seen on an X-ray. But the treatment for a bruised rib is often the same as treatment for a broken one.

An injury to the ribs can cause pain. The pain may be worse when you breathe deeply, cough, or sneeze.

In most cases, a bruised rib will heal on its own. You can take pain medicine while the rib mends. Pain relief allows you to take deep breaths.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Rest and protect the injured or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that causes pain.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • After 2 or 3 days, if your swelling is gone, put a heating pad set on low or a warm cloth on your chest. Some doctors suggest that you go back and forth between hot and cold. Put a thin cloth between the heating pad and your skin.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • As your pain gets better, slowly return to your normal activities. Be patient. Rib bruises can take weeks or months to heal. If the pain gets worse, it may be a sign that you need to rest a while longer.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a new or worse cough.
  • You have new or worse pain.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.