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Broken or bruised ribs

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.

Symptoms include:

  • strong pain in your chest area, particularly when you breathe in or cough
  • 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.

How to treat broken or bruised ribs yourself

Broken or bruised ribs usually get better by themselves within 2 to 6 weeks.

There are things you can do to help ease pain and speed up healing.


  • use painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen gel (or ibuprofen tablets if needed)

  • hold an ice pack (or a bag of frozen peas) wrapped 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

  • hold a pillow against your chest if you need to cough

  • walk around and sometimes move your shoulders to help you breathe and clear mucus from your lungs

  • regularly take slow, deep breaths to help clear your lungs

  • try to sleep more upright for the first few nights


  • 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

Urgent advice: Ask for an urgent GP appointment or get help from NHS 111 if:

You have a broken or bruised rib and:

  • your pain has not improved within a few weeks
  • you're coughing up yellow or green mucus
  • you have a very high temperature or feel hot and shivery

You might need stronger painkillers or have a chest infection that needs antibiotics.

You can call 111 or get help from 111 online.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to A&E if:

You have a broken or bruised rib and:

  • your injury was caused by a serious accident, such as a car accident
  • you have shortness of breath that's getting worse
  • the chest pain is getting worse
  • you have pain in your tummy or shoulder
  • you're coughing up blood

It could mean a broken rib has damaged something else, like your lung, liver or spleen.

Page last reviewed: 10 January 2024
Next review due: 10 January 2027