Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Rib injuries

Wharanga rara

Rib injuries include broken and bruised ribs.

You usually injure your ribs due to a force on your chest. This can be from an incident such as a fall, sports injury or car accident. You can occasionally injure your ribs with severe, repeated coughing.

Diagnosing a rib injury

Doctors often do not need to do any tests to diagnose injured ribs. The treatment for bruised and broken ribs is the same so it isn't usually necessary to get an X-ray to tell them apart. The only reason to have an X-ray is to look for a lung injury such as a collapsed lung that a broken rib might have caused. If your doctor doesn't suspect a lung injury, you will not need an X-ray.

Treating a rib injury

The treatment depends on how bad your injury is. The worst injuries are where you've broken many ribs and the broken ribs have damaged organs such as your lungs, liver or spleen. In this case, you'll need to go to hospital for specialist treatment.

Often rib injuries are relatively minor, although painful. These injuries will heal on their own without any specific treatment. This usually takes about six weeks.

Self-care for a rib injury

Rib injuries are painful and can cause your breathing to be shallower than normal. They can also make it difficult for you to cough. This increases your chance of getting pneumonia (chest infection).

To reduce your chances of getting pneumonia it's important to:

It's normal to still feel some discomfort even with regular pain relief. See your GP if you're taking paracetamol and ibuprofen but your pain is still severe. As your ribs heal, you can reduce the amount of pain relief.

You might find it less painful if you hold a cushion or pillow against your injured side when trying to cough or take deep breaths.

Getting help for a rib injury

Your GP can give you a prescription, so you have enough pain relief.

If your pain is getting worse, you're having trouble breathing, you're coughing more or you have a fever, you should go to see your GP. These are signs that you could be developing a chest infection.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.


Page reference: 439381

Review key: HIRBB-439376