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How to Treat Bruised Ribs

Two Parts:Immediate HelpWhen to Get Help

If you experience pain when you cough, sneeze, breathe deeply, or twist or bend your torso, you may have bruised ribs. You can treat the pain yourself, though you may need to seek professional help if it becomes too much to bear. If you don't feel better after taking a pain reliever and deep breathing, it may be time to see a doctor.

Part 1
Immediate Help

  1. Image titled Treat Bruised Ribs Step 1
    Make sure you don't have broken ribs. A rib that's bruised or cracked is damaged, but still in its place in the rib cage. A broken rib, however, is dangerous because it's been dislodged from its normal position, and could potentially puncture a lung or another organ. Before you start treating yourself at home, make sure your rib isn't broken.
    • Lightly run your hands over your ribcage. The area around a cracked or bruised rib might feel swollen, but you should not notice any huge protrusions or dents. If you do suspect a broken rib, see a doctor as soon as possible.
    • Look out for flail chest. Flail chest occurs when you break three or more ribs right next to each other, and it can seriously hinder your breathing.[1] If you suspect more than one rib is injured and you physically can't take a deep breath, see a doctor.
  2. Image titled Treat Bruised Ribs Step 2
    Ice the injured area. Icing your rib will help reduce pain and swelling, so that the bruised tissue can heal more quickly. Stick to ice for the first 72 hours after an injury, and resist the urge to break out a heating pad instead.
    • Find a bag of frozen vegetables (like peas or corn), or fill a resealable plastic bag with chipped ice. Wrap the bag of ice in a towel or T-shirt, and lay it over your bruised rib.
  3. Image titled Treat Bruised Ribs Step 3
    Take pain medication. If every breath hurts, controlling the pain will go a long way to helping you feel better. Take an over-the-counter painkiller such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen according to the instructions on the bottle.
    • If you're under age 19, you're still at risk for Reye Syndrome.[2] Take something other than aspirin.
  4. Image titled Treat Bruised Ribs Step 4
    Rest. Now's not the time to exert yourself, especially if breathing is painful. Resting is the best thing you can do to heal up quickly. Grab a book or turn on a movie, lie down in the most comfortable position you can manage, and stay there for as long as you can, barring bathroom and snack breaks.
    • Get the next day or two off work, if you can. Especially if your job involves standing for long periods of time or manual labor.
    • Try lying on your injured side. If your neck and back are in good shape, consider lying on the side with the bruised rib. It sounds counterintuitive, but it will actually help you breathe easier. (Just make sure you're keeping up on your painkillers first.)
    • Don't play sports, or engage in any activity that could aggravate your injury.
  5. Image titled Treat Bruised Ribs Step 5
    Manage your breathing. Before, the most commonly recommended treatment for bruised ribs was wrapping the ribcage in a compression bandage. Turns out that's a terrible idea, because restricted breathing can lead to complications like pneumonia. Repeat: don't wrap your ribs in an elastic compression bandage. Here's what to do instead:
    • Take a deep breath whenever you can. Every few minutes, try to take one good, prolonged inhale, and let it out slowly.
      • If your ribs are so damaged that this seems out of the question, try to take one deep breath every hour, on the hour.
      • If you literally cannot do one deep breath per hour, call a doctor.
    • Do breathing exercises. When you feel like you can breathe somewhat regularly again, practice inhaling slowly for three seconds, holding your breath for three seconds, and exhaling for another three seconds. Repeat this pattern for a few minutes, once or twice a day.
    • Don't smoke. When recovering from a rib injury, lung irritants can make you more prone to infection. Use this as an opportunity to quit smoking.

Part 2
When to Get Help

  1. Image titled Treat Bruised Ribs Step 6
    Visit a doctor if the pain is persistent or unbearable. Chest pain can have a number of causes, and some can be life-threatening. An accurate diagnosis ensures that you're treating the right problem. Your doctor may order chest x-rays, a CT scan, an MRI or a bone scan if a fracture is suspected to reach an accurate diagnosis. However, injured cartilage or bruises will not show up in these tests. Here's when to get medical help:[3]
    • You are suddenly short of breath.
    • You're experiencing increasing pain in your chest, abdomen, or shoulder.
    • You develop a cough or fever.
    • The pain in your chest is intense, but you can twist to look over your shoulder without a marked increase in pain. A bruised rib will feel worse with twisting your torso; something more serious will not.


  • When you suspect a sneeze or cough coming on, press the affected area; it gives relief.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relief medication or apply topical pain relief creams (with your doctor's approval) as needed. Your doctor also may prescribe pain relievers or suggest injections of long-lasting nerve blocking drugs.
  • Try to maintain a normal posture. Compensating for the rib pain can lead directly to back pain and needless chiropractor bills.
  • Use your abdominal muscles as little as you can and sleep facing upwards since this relieves pain from your ribs and shoulders.
  • Take antihistamines if you suffer from upper respiratory allergies. Coughing and sneezing will cause pain when you have a bruised rib, and the additional movement resulting from coughing and sneezing will slow the healing process.
  • Soak in hot bath with medical salts or eucalyptus oil or bi carb soda. Can use a little of each. Works wonders.


  • Call emergency services if you experience difficulty breathing, pressure, pain in the center of your chest, or pain that expands to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can be signs of a heart attack.
  • Do not attempt to treat broken ribs on your own. If you are experiencing the symptoms of broken ribs, seek medical attention immediately.
  • This article is not a substitute for medical advice.

Things You'll Need

  • Resealable plastic bags
  • Chipped ice or small frozen vegetables
  • Thin piece of cloth (such as a dish towel)
  • Pain relieving gel

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