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Broken Rib in Children: Care Instructions

Skeletal view of the rib cage, showing the ribs, sternum, and cartilage


A broken rib is a crack or break in one of the bones of the rib cage. Breathing can be very painful, because the muscles used for breathing pull on the rib.

In most cases, a broken rib will heal on its own. Your child can take pain medicine while the rib mends. Pain relief allows your child to take deep breaths. In the past, doctors recommended taping or wrapping broken ribs. This is no longer done, because taping makes it hard to take deep breaths. Taking deep breaths at least once an hour may help prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung.

Your child's rib will heal in about 6 weeks.

Healthy habits can help your child heal. Give your child a variety of healthy foods. And don't smoke around your child.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Help your child cough or take the deepest breath possible at least once every hour, even if your child feels some pain. This will get air deeply into the lungs. This may reduce your child's chance of getting pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung. Hold a pillow against your child's chest to make this less painful.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.

When should you call for help?

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

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.

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

  • Your child has some trouble breathing.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a cough that gets worse. For example, call if your child has a dry cough that turns into a wet cough, bringing up mucus from the lungs.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child has pain even after taking pain medicine.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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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.