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Rib Fracture


A rib fracture

is a crack or break in a rib.

Rib Cage

Other items you need to know about rib fractures:

  • The most common cause is blunt trauma from a fall or car accident. Trauma can increase your risk for organ damage when your rib is fractured.
  • Older age, osteoporosis, or a tumor can increase your risk for rib fractures.
  • A stress fracture can happen in your upper or middle ribs. Stress fractures can happen when you have a forceful long-term cough. They can also be caused by forceful athletic movements, such as in golf, throwing, or rowing.
  • A condition called flail chest occurs if 3 or more of your ribs are broken in 2 or more places. This condition may make it hard for you to breathe.

Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Chest wall pain that worsens when you breathe, move, or cough
  • Bruising or swelling near your injury
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty taking a deep breath

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have new or increased pain.

Seek care immediately if:

  • Your pain does not get better, even after treatment.
  • You have a fever or a cough.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


You may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.


  • Take deep breaths and cough 10 times each hour. This will decrease your risk for a lung infection. Hug a pillow on your injured side to decrease pain while you take deep breaths. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you can. Let the air out and then cough. Deep breaths help open your airway. You may be given an incentive spirometer to help you take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece in your mouth and take a slow, deep breath, then let the air out and cough. Repeat these steps 10 times every hour.
  • Rest and limit activity as directed. Do not pull, push, or lift objects. Start to do more as your pain decreases. Ask your healthcare provider how much activity you can do.
  • Apply ice on your chest near your fractured rib for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.

Follow up with your doctor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Rib Fracture (Ambulatory Care)

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.