Broken Rib: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Rib cage

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. You need to take deep breaths at least once an hour to 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 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?

  • Take pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • 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, cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once every hour. This will get air deeply into your lungs and 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 sudden chest pain and shortness of breath, or you cough up blood.

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

  • You have some trouble breathing.
  • You have a fever.
  • You have a cough that gets worse. For example, you have a dry cough that turns into a wet cough, bringing up mucus from the lungs.

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

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

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/ed

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