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.
- 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:
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: 5 January 2021
Next review due: 5 January 2024