Rib Injuries

The ribs are fairly resistant to injury, but sometimes accidents happen. The most common injury is a rib fracture, and these are more commonly found in adults. The reason for this is that children have more elasticity in their bones, which causes them to break less easily. Another common injury to the ribs is muscle strains.

Rib fractures:

Rib Fractures are usually caused by a direct blow (or fall) to the ribs. Ribs 4-9 are the most commonly broken because they would receive the most pressure in the event of a direct blow. The following are symptoms of a broken rib:

Severe localized pain

Sharp pain with any motion of the chest (breathing, coughing, sneezing, laughing)

See your doctor if any of the following things occur, as they may indicate complications from the fracture such as a pierced lung.

You become short of breath, or your breathing is labored and difficult

You become lightheaded

The area swells

When the injured area (place where the pain is greatest) is gently pressed a “crunching” sound is heard

The pain seems very severe or “deep”

There is pain in your abdomen

You are coughing up blood

There is blood in your urine

Remember, if you are unsure if you have broken a rib you should see a doctor to make sure. Also keep in mind that about 25% of rib fractures will not show up on an x-ray. These injuries cannot be cast, due to their position, but to ease the pain and discomfort a elastic ace bandage may be wrapped around the persons chest. If you are able to continue doing most of your everyday activities with only minimal pain it’s a good sign. If there is a deep pain, or you are unable to partake in everyday activities it may be a sign of a worse injury and you should consult your doctor.


One of the first things you should do is apply ice to the injured area. Icing the injury early on can help reduce the inflammation and pain. Over the counter pain medication may also be given to ease the pain. If it hurts to breath and move, which is likely, then you should wrap and elastic ace bandage around the persons chest to help restrict movement. Discourage the person from taking deep breaths and partaking in activities (if you are hiking, take a break, and move slowly when you begin again). Encourage the person to take shallow breaths, go slowly, and rest often. Loosen the bandage around their waist once an hour and have them take a couple deep breaths, it may hurt, but it should be done anyway. Apply ice packs (wrapped in a cloth, rather than placed directly on the skin) for about 30 minutes every two hours for two or three days.

As for movement and activities, a simple rule applies: if it hurts, don’t do it. The injury should heal in 4-6 weeks depending on the severity of the break. The pain of the injury will gradually decrease.

Muscle Strains

Muscle strains are another common rib injury. The muscles affected in this injury are more often the muscles attached to the rib cage than the muscles along the chest wall. They can be injured by over stretching, or by sudden violent contractions. Sports like tennis, golf, baseball, and basketball can cause this sort of aggravation. Occasionally strains are confused with a heart attack because of the severity and location of the pull.

*** Before administering any first aid to anyone outside your family, be aware of your rights and responsibilities: The Good Samaritan Law. ***