A rib fracture is a crack or break in any part of the rib cage. The most common cause of a fractured rib is a physical blow to the chest, mostly from a car accident or a fall. Coughing hard can also fracture a rib. There is a higher risk of breaking their ribs for people with osteoporosis or cancer. Breathing is painful because the ribs aid in breathing.

It is common to have a punctured or collapsed lung (pneumothorax) when you have fractured ribs. You may have also injured your spleen, blood vessels or other parts in the body that is why it is important to see a doctor.

Flail chest is a condition where you have three or more broken ribs in more than one place. It is also harder to breathe with this condition.

A fractured rib may cause:

  • Mild to severe pain in the injured area.
  • Pain when you breathe.
  • Pain around the fracture when someone pushes on your breastbone.

If you can’t breathe normally because of your injuries, you may:

  • Feel short of breath.
  • Feel anxious, restless, or scared.
  • Have a headache.
  • Feel dizzy, tired, or sleepy.


Your doctor will ask questions about your injury and do a physical exam. The doctor may:

  • Push on your chest to find out where you are hurt.
  • Watch you breathe and listen to your lungs to make sure air is moving in and out normally.
  • Listen to your heart.
  • Check your head, neck, spine, and belly to make sure there are no other injuries.

An imaging test such as X-ray may be used in order to visualize the fracture. Not all fractures can be seen through X-ray, so you can also be treated as if you have a fractured rib.



A fractured rib usually takes at least 6 weeks to heal. To help manage the pain while the fracture heals:

  • Put ice on the injured area.
  • Get extra rest.
  • Take pain medicine such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medicine if over-the-counter medicines don’t work.

While you are healing, it is important to cough or take the deepest breath you can at least once an hour in order to prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of the lung tissue. It is also a good idea to lie on your injured side because it will let you take deeper breaths. Wrapping the injured area should not be done. It can make it harder to take deep breaths, collapse parts of your lung or increase your risk for pneumonia.

Related Articles


Overview and FactsTypes and SymptomsDiagnosis & MedicationsOverview and Facts Referred pain is a phenomenon where pain is perceived at a [...]


Overview and FactsTypes and SymptomsDiagnosis & MedicationsOverview and Facts Quinoline yellow is a synthetic food colorant commonly used in the [...]


Overview and FactsTypes and SymptomsDiagnosis & MedicationsOverview and Facts Pneumothorax is a condition characterized by the presence of air in [...]