Broken Ribs

A fractured or broken rib is a very common injury. It occurs when one of the rib cage bones cracks or breaks. Luckily, ribs are more likely to be cracked than broken. Although painful, cracked ribs are not as dangerous as broken ribs. Broken ribs can result in serious collateral damage, because a jagged piece of bone can damage internal organs like the lungs or cut a major blood vessel. The middle ribs are usually the ones that are broken or cracked. Broken ribs tend to cause serious pain, especially when you press on the injured area or take a deep breath. It may also be difficult and painful to twist or bend your body. If you are having trouble breathing because of broken ribs, you may have a headache, feel fatigued, experience restlessness and anxiety, and feel short of breath.


There are two main causes of broken ribs: repetitive trauma or direct impact. For athletes, repetitive trauma can be caused by sports such as rowing or golfing, because of the pressure that is constantly placed on the ribs. Repetitive trauma can also be caused by prolonged and severe coughing spells. Direct impact can also cause broken or fractured ribs. This is common in contact sports, such as hockey, football, and rugby, because of the tackling and body checks. They can also occur in mixed martial arts and boxing because of kicks or punches to the body. For non-athletes, fractured ribs can be caused by falls and motor vehicle accidents. Broken ribs can sometimes be a consequence of diseases such as infections or cancer, although this is much rarer than the previous two causes.


If you suffer broken ribs, it is important to rest. Avoid any activity that can cause further damage to the ribs. You should ice the injured area for about 20 minutes every hour for the first 2 days. Afterwards, reduce the icing to 10-20 minutes about 3-4 times a day until the pain and swelling is reduced. Make sure the ice pack is wrapped in a thin towel to prevent skin damage like frostbite. If it hurts a lot when you breathe, it is important to get adequate pain medication. This is because improper breathing can eventually lead to pneumonia. If the pain is very severe, your doctor may inject a long-lasting anesthesia around the nerves that supply the ribs. Unlike other sports related injuries, it is not recommended that you use compression wraps. This is because they can prevent you from taking deep breaths, which can also lead to pneumonia. Typically, broken ribs do not require an extended stay at the hospital, unless you have injured other body organs.


Broken ribs tend to heal on their own within 6 weeks if there is no other damage caused to the body. It is important to breathe properly, even if it is painful. Try gentle coughing and slow deep-breathing exercises every 2 hours. If it is painful, take pain medication, and try holding a blanket or pillow against your injured rib. It is important to remain active, as bed rest is not recommended. Being active does not necessarily mean returning to play, however. You should wait until your doctor or trainer clears you before returning to sports, especially if they involve contact. As you heal, avoid activities or movements that put pressure on the ribs, such as lifting heavy objects. There are a few things you can do to prevent broken ribs. Make sure you are wearing proper equipment while playing contact sports. This means shoulder pads, and if possible, some form of padding that protects your ribs. For non-athletes, make sure you wear your seat belt while driving, and be careful to avoid taking hard falls. MedlinePlus has more information on broken ribs and what you can expect recovery-wise.