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What Is Involved in Treating Bruised Ribs?

The rib cage. A bruised rib can cause chest pain.
An ice pack can help with bruised ribs.
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  • Written By: K. Testa
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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Ribs can be injured in a variety of ways. Bruising is usually caused by an impact to the ribs and the surrounding muscles, such as from a direct blow or a fall. Treating bruised ribs generally entails a combination of methods, such as administering pain medication, applying ice, and resting in order to avoid further strain or injury. Other than relieving the pain and allowing them to heal themselves, there is not much that can be done to treat bruised ribs.

When someone complains of a bruised rib, a physician might listen to the patient breathe in order to check for lung damage. He might also want to perform an X-ray to rule out a bruised or collapsed lung, which is potentially more serious than just a bruised rib. Sometimes the rib is actually fractured, but since it tends to heal on its own within a month or two, it generally receives the same treatment as a bruised rib.

Pain medication is frequently the first thing recommended for treating bruised ribs. Commonly used medicines include ibuprofen, acetaminophen and other over-the-counter pain relievers. Individual cases vary, and serious pain may need to be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or stronger prescription medicines, such as narcotics.

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In addition to taking medication for treating bruised ribs, applying ice to one's chest can also help alleviate soreness. Using a medical ice pack or even a bag of frozen vegetables can provide pain relief. In order to avoid irritation, it is usually recommended that the individual does not put the ice directly on the skin; it often helps to wrap it in a towel or other thin cloth before applying it to the injured area. Ice packs are typically used several times a day for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, depending on the doctor's specific advice.

Developing pneumonia is a potential complication of a rib or lung injury since it can often become difficult to take deep breaths. When treating bruised ribs, restricting movement of the lungs could result in irritation and breathing problems as well. For these reasons, most medical professionals do not recommend taping the chest or otherwise constricting the area.

Getting extra rest is another standard recommendation for treating bruised ribs. Breathing regularly might be difficult, so it usually helps to stay still whenever possible and to breathe in a relaxed manner. Someone with bruised ribs can also avoid further damage by not moving too suddenly or too quickly. It is generally recommended that the injured person also refrain from stretching or engaging in any strenuous physical activity until it is approved by a doctor.

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