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Top Self-Care Treatments for Bruised Ribs

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedMarch 20, 2024

Bruised ribs can be incredibly painful and debilitating, affecting everything from your breathing to your ability to move comfortably. They can occur from any type of impact to the chest.

This article explores the causes and symptoms of bruised ribs, how to get diagnosed, and the top self-care treatments, including rest, ice, over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, and gentle stretching exercises.

What Are the Self-Care Treatments for Bruised Ribs?

Bruised ribs are typically treated with home treatments, like rest, ice, OTC pain relievers, gentle stretching and breathing exercises, proper posture, supportive braces, and modifying your activity. You may also benefit from physical therapy.

These measures can help reduce inflammation and pain, and give the bruised rib the opportunity to heal.

Rest and Ice

FlexiKold Gel Soft Flexible Ice Packs

Rest and ice are the first steps to reducing your pain and inflammation, and allowing you to recover.

Rest allows the injured area to repair itself and reduces strain on the ribs and surrounding muscles.

Applying ice packs can help relieve pain by constricted blood vessels, reducing inflammation and swelling, and numbing the area.

For best results, apply an ice pack for 15-20 minutes every few hours during the first 48 hours after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to the skin.

OTC Pain Relievers

Kirkland Ibuprofen

OTC pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), can help relieve discomfort and pain.

Acetaminophen by Amazon Basic Care

Ibuprofen can also help reduce inflammation. With less pain and swelling, you’re more likely to move around and do the recommended stretches and exercises to help you recover faster. It is important to follow the recommended dosage and talk to your doctor if you’re at risk of side effects from these medications.

Gentle Stretching and Breathing Exercises

Gentle stretching and breathing exercises can promote movement, reduce muscle tension, and enhance lung function.

The gentle stretching helps improve flexibility in the chest and rib area. This can support the healing process and prevent stiffness.

Deep breathing exercises can help you maintain optimal lung function and prevent complications from reduced respiratory function.

Start these exercises gradually and be sure you’re using proper technique. Your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist who can provide safe and effective exercises and teach you good technique.

Proper Posture and Body Mechanics

Maintaining proper posture can help reduce strain on the injured ribs. You may need to adjust your work desk and chair and the way you sit to reduce pressure on the affected area. You may need to adjust the way you sleep as well.

Additionally, using proper lifting techniques and avoiding sudden twisting motions, can reduce the risk of aggravating the injury. Be mindful of the way you move to help reduce your pain and prevent re-injuring yourself.

Supportive Braces or Wraps

Chest Braces by BraceAbility

Using supportive braces or wraps can provide stability and protect the injured ribs, reducing discomfort and helping the ribs heal.

Supportive aids compress the affected area and provide gentle support. They also limit movement of the ribs, making it easier to breathe. This can prevent complications such as shallow breathing or pneumonia.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can give you safe and effective exercises to help improve your range of motion and flexibility, strengthen the chest muscles, and promote overall recovery. You’ll get a personalized stretching and strengthening plan to help you regain your strength and endurance. They may also show you how to safely perform certain tasks that may cause pain.

Avoiding Activities that Aggravate Pain

It’s important to avoid activities that worsen pain or discomfort in the chest area while you’re healing. You may need to avoid lifting heavy objects, limit strenuous exercises, and be mindful of movements that involve twisting or stretching the torso.

What Are Bruised Ribs?

Bruised ribs are when the ribs are injured or damaged without any fractures. This injury often causes pain and discomfort, and may impact your ability to perform regular activities.

The pain may worsen with movement or deep breathing, making it more difficult to do simple tasks like bending, lifting. Coughing and sneezing can be painful.

What Causes Bruised Ribs?

Bruised ribs can be caused by various factors, including trauma or injury, repetitive motion, and certain medical conditions.

Trauma or Injury

The most common cause of bruised ribs is trauma or injury to the chest area, often from accidents, falls, or direct blows to the ribcage. Such incidents can lead to significant pain and discomfort, requiring immediate attention and care.

The impact of trauma or injury on the ribs can be severe, making breathing painful and challenging. In some cases, a bruised rib can even lead to potential complications, such as difficulty in coughing or sneezing. The severity of bruised ribs varies depending on the extent of the injury.

Repetitive Motion

Engaging in repetitive motion activities, such as certain sports or occupational tasks, can also contribute to bruised ribs. The repetitive motion can place consistent strain and stress on the chest area.

Repetitive lifting, twisting, or bending can put excessive pressure on the rib cage, making it vulnerable to injury. These activities include weightlifting, rowing, and jobs that require frequent heavy lifting or repetitive bending.

It's important to take precautions to protect the ribs. This may include maintaining proper form, avoiding overuse, and using appropriate protective gear.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis (very low bone density) can increase your risk of bruised ribs even with minimal impact or pressure. This means that even a minor fall or coughing can result in bruised or fractured ribs.

Healthcare providers should take into account the underlying bone health of patients when evaluating and treating rib injuries.

Preventive measures, such as maintaining bone density through diet, exercise, and medical intervention, will help reduce the risk of rib injuries for those with bone-related conditions.

What Are the Symptoms of Bruised Ribs?

The symptoms of bruised ribs can include pain, tenderness, difficulty breathing, swelling and bruising, and muscle spasms.

Pain and Tenderness

Pain and tenderness in the chest area are the main symptoms of bruised ribs, often intensifying with movement or deep breathing.

The pain can be sharp and localized, making physical activities such as bending and lifting painful. It may also hurt when breathing deeply, coughing, or laughing.

The tenderness can be felt when gentle pressure is applied to the area.

Difficulty Breathing

Bruised ribs can make it difficult to breathe, especially during deep inhalation or exertion, causing significant discomfort and potential complications. Risks include complications like pneumonia caused by shallow breathing. Managing these symptoms involves a balance of pain management, gentle movement, and gradual breathing exercises to improve lung capacity and relieve discomfort.

Swelling and Bruising

You may have some swelling and bruising around the injured rib, signs of tissue damage and inflammation. The swelling can contribute to pain and reduce your movement. Bruised muscles can also be painful, make you more tense, and restrict your movement. It’s important to monitor any swelling or bruising for any signs of complications, like infections, and check with a healthcare provider if you’re concerned.

Muscle Spasms

Muscle spasms in the chest area can accompany bruised ribs, leading to discomfort and limiting your activity. It is important to effectively manage and relieve these spasms in order to promote healing and restore mobility.

Techniques such as gentle stretching, targeted massage, and applying heat or cold packs can help relieve spasms..

How Are Bruised Ribs Diagnosed?

Diagnosing bruised ribs may include a thorough physical exam, imaging tests such as X-rays or CT scans, and evaluation of symptoms and medical history.

During the physical examination, your doctor will carefully feel the ribcage to identify areas of tenderness, swelling, or a deformity. They may order Imaging tests, including X-rays or CT scans, to rule out more severe damage, such as fractures.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top self-care treatments for bruised ribs?

The top self-care treatments for bruised ribs include rest, ice therapy, pain medication, deep breathing exercises, gentle stretching, and proper posture.

How long does it take for bruised ribs to heal?

The healing time for bruised ribs can vary, but it typically takes 3-6 weeks for the pain and discomfort to subside.

Should I continue to exercise with bruised ribs?

It is best to avoid strenuous exercise and activities that put pressure on the ribs while they are healing. However, gentle movements and stretching can help with the healing process.

Can I use heat therapy for bruised ribs?

While heat therapy can provide temporary relief for the pain, it is not recommended for bruised ribs as it can increase inflammation and slow down the healing process.

Are there any natural remedies for bruised ribs?

Yes, there are some natural remedies that can help with bruised ribs such as arnica gel, turmeric, and ginger. It is best to consult with a doctor before trying any natural remedies.

When should I see a doctor for bruised ribs?

If the pain and discomfort from bruised ribs persist for more than a week or if you experience difficulty breathing, it is important to seek medical attention to rule out any other potential injuries.