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Broken Rib: 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. You can take pain medicine while the rib mends. Pain relief allows you to take deep breaths. In the past, doctors recommended taping or wrapping broken ribs. This is no longer done because taping makes it hard for you to take deep breaths. Taking deep breaths may help prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung.

Your rib will heal in about 6 weeks.

You heal best when you take good care of yourself. Eat a variety of healthy foods, and don't smoke.

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 advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) 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?

  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
  • Even if it hurts, try to cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once every hour. This will get air deeply into your lungs. This may reduce your chance of getting pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung. Hold a pillow against your chest to make this less painful.
  • 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.

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 advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

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

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

  • You have pain even after taking your medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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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.