A rib injury can be a frustrating thing to experience. Not only can it cause pain every time you breathe, it also has no specific treatment - most rib injuries heal on their own in time.
But you don’t have to tolerate the pain while waiting for nature to take its course. Try the following steps to minimise any discomfort you may have and help speed up your recovery.
Take pain relief
If your injury is causing you pain, it’s important to take pain relief. Don’t try to ignore the pain as this can encourage you to take shallow breaths or avoid coughing when you need to.
Coughing helps to clear your lungs of mucus and bacteria and if you don’t do so you can increase your risk of developing a chest infection. Coughing properly is particularly important if you’re prone to chest infections or if you:
- have a long-term chest condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- have heart failure
A broken or bruised rib usually takes around 3 to 6 weeks to heal. During this time, take pain relief as needed to help you breathe and cough comfortably.
What type of pain relief should I take for a rib injury?
The type of pain relief you should take will depend on how severe your symptoms are. As a general guide, for:
- mild to moderate pain - take an everyday, non-prescription painkiller
- moderate to severe pain - take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or a stronger prescription painkiller
While NSAIDs can help relieve pain from a rib injury, some people can react badly to them. You should always speak to a doctor before taking anti-inflammatory drugs or any other medication.
Make sure you follow the advice on the packet and don’t take more than the recommended dose.
Self-care treatment for a broken rib
Once you’re taking the right medication to ease the pain, the following actions may help while your rib heals:
- breathe normally - taking slow, deep breaths can help to clear your lungs
- cough normally - you may find it helpful to hold a pillow against your chest when you cough
- avoid smoking (if you smoke)
- give yourself time to rest properly
- request time off work, especially if you have a physically-demanding job
- regularly use an ice pack on the affected rib or ribs to help reduce any swelling
- sleep upright for the first few nights - extra pillows can help with this
If you’re worried about pain from your rib injury and/or aren’t sure what to do, you can also use this article - when should I be concerned about rib pain - to guide you.
Broken or bruised ribs [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Tidy D. Rib Injuries | Fractured, Broken & Bruised Ribs | Pain Relief and Treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.
Cough causes and treatments [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2020 [cited 28 January 2020]. Available here.