Bruised or broken ribs can be very painful, but usually heal by themselves.
Check if you have a bruised or broken rib
Broken or bruised ribs are usually caused by a fall, a blow to the chest or severe coughing.
- strong pain in your chest area, particularly when you breathe in
- swelling or tenderness around the affected ribs
- sometimes bruising on the skin
- feeling or hearing a crack if it's a broken rib
Ribs cannot be easily splinted or supported like other bones, so they're usually left to heal naturally.
There's often no need for an X-ray.
Things you can do yourself
Broken or bruised ribs heal in the same way and usually get better by themselves within 3 to 6 weeks.
There are some things you can do to help ease pain and speed up healing:
- take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – avoid taking ibuprofen for 48 hours after your injury as it may slow down healing
- hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas in a tea towel) to the affected ribs regularly in the first few days to bring down swelling
- rest and take time off work if you need to
- breathe normally and cough when you need to – this helps clear mucus from your lungs to prevent chest infections
- if you need to cough, hold a pillow against your chest
- walk around and sometimes move your shoulders to help you breathe and clear mucus from your lungs
- take 10 slow, deep breaths every hour to help clear your lungs
- try to sleep more upright for the first few nights
- do not wrap a bandage tightly around your chest to stop your lungs expanding properly
- do not lie down or stay still for a long time
- do not strain yourself or lift heavy objects
- do not play any sports or do any exercise that makes your pain worse
- do not smoke – stopping smoking may also help your recovery
Urgent advice: Get advice from 111 now if:
- your pain has not improved within a few weeks
- you're coughing up yellow or green mucus
- you have a very high temperature or you feel hot and shivery
You might need stronger painkillers or have a chest infection that needs antibiotics.
111 will tell you what to do. They can arrange a phone call from a nurse or doctor if you need one.
Other ways to get help
Get an urgent GP appointment
A GP may be able to help you.
Ask your GP practice for an urgent appointment.
Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if you:
- have an injury caused by a serious accident, such as a car accident
- have shortness of breath that's getting worse
- have chest pain that's getting worse
- have pain in your tummy or shoulder
- are coughing up blood
It could mean a broken rib has damaged something else, like your lung, liver or spleen.
Page last reviewed: 15 December 2017
Next review due: 15 December 2020