Northside Health Library

Rib fracture - aftercare


A rib fracture is a crack or break in 1 or more of your rib bones.

Your ribs are the round long bones in your chest that wrap around your upper body. They connect your breastbone to your spine.

More about Your Injury

A rib fracture can be very painful because your ribs move when you breathe, cough and move your upper body.

The ribs in the middle of your chest are the ones that break most often.

What to Expect

Healing lasts at least 6 weeks.

If you injure other body organs, you may need to stay in the hospital. Otherwise you can heal at home.Most people with a broken rib do not need surgery.

In the emergency room you may have received a strong medicine (such as a nerve block or narcotics) if you are in severe pain.

You will not have a belt or a bandage around your chest because these would keep your ribs from moving when you breathe or cough, and may lead to the development of pneumonia. 

Pain Relief

Apply an ice pack 20 minutes of every hour you are awake for the first 2 days, then 10-20 minutes 3 times daily as needed to reduce pain and swelling.

You may need prescription pain medicines (narcotics) to keep your pain under control while your bones heal.

  • Take these medicines on the schedule your health care provider prescribed.
  • Do not drink alcohol, drive, or operate heavy machinery while you are taking these medicines.
  • To avoid becoming constipated, drink more fluids, eat high-fiber foods, and use stool softeners.
  • To avoid nausea or vomiting, try taking your pain medicines with food.

For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn). You can buy these pain medications at the store.

  • These should be avoided for the first 24 hours after your injury since they may promote bleeding.
  • Talk with your health care provider before using these medications if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
  • Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may also be used for pain by most people


Do slow deep-breathing and gentle coughing exercises every 2 hours. Holding a pillow or blanket against your injured rib can make these less painful.

  • These exercises to help prevent a collapsed lung or a lung infection.
  • You may need to take your pain medicines beforehand

It is important to stay active. Bed rest is not recommended. Your health care provider will talk with you about when you can return to:

  • Your everyday activities
  • Work, which will depend on the type of job you have;
  • Sports or other high impact activity.

While you heal, avoid movements that put painful pressure on your ribs. These include crunches, pushing or pulling heavy objects, and others.


Your health care provider will make sure you are doing your exercises and that your pain is under control so that you can be active.

There is usually no need for taking x-rays as you heal, unless you develop fever, cough, increasing pain or difficulty breathing.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Pain that does not allow deep breathing or coughing
  • Fever
  • Cough or increase in mucous that you cough up
  • Shortness of breath
  • Side effects of pain medicine such as nausea, vomiting, skin rashes

Review Date: 6/19/2012
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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