Cracked Ribs – Seldom Serious, But Slow To Heal


Whether you experience bruised ribs, cracked ribs, or broken ribs, you can expect to be in a lot of pain. The pain doesn’t go away soon after the injury occurs either, but is apt to linger on through most of the healing process. Bruised ribs involves primarily the muscles or ligaments, and not the bones, although the amount of bruising can be quite severe. Cracked ribs are generally less severe than broken ribs, especially where compound rib fractures have occurred, but the dividing line between cracked ribs and broken ribs can be a fine one.


If you crack a rib, you will soon become aware of it, even if what caused the rib to crack didn’t cause a great deal of pain at the moment. The main problem with a rib injury is that you cannot put a cast around your ribs as you would with a broken arm or leg. Using a cast on the rib cage impedes breathing, and over time could cause a host of other problems, some of which could potentially become serious. The rib cage has to expand and contract with our breathing. This, of course, interferes somewhat with the healing process, but more importantly results in pain as the damaged rib is subjected to movement. Movement or not, the healing process will happen, but it will take time.


You Don’t Need To Be Hit


A cracked rib is not usually a serious injury. Still, it is important to go to the doctor’s office or a clinic should it happen to you. You don’t have to be hit by a baseball bat to crack a rib. If you have a very bad cold, coughing can sometimes be severe enough to cause one or more ribs to crack. Rowing a boat or racing shell can put a great deal of stress on the muscles and tendons in the rib cage, and rowing has been known to crack a rib on occasion. The same can be said for a golf swing.


If you begin to notice pain in the rib area and it seems to be steadily worsening, it’s a good idea to see the doctor. If the pain is accompanied by bruising, it’s important to see a doctor immediately. If a cracked rib should fracture, there is always the possibility of a lung being punctured, although the probability of a cracked rib actually fracturing is rather remote. The symptoms you may experience can sometimes depend on which rib is cracked. The middle ribs are the one most exposed and consequently the ones most apt to be injured. The upper ribs tend to be somewhat more protected. A cracked rib might in some instances cause only a little pain, but if a tendon has been bruised, there can be a great deal of pain and even some loss of upper body mobility due to the amount of pain being experienced.


Rest Is Best


It usually takes about from 6 to 8 weeks for cracked ribs to heal completely. As mentioned above, a rib cage cast is not something a doctor is going to prescribe or recommend. The use of such a cast invites an onset of pneumonia. Pneumonia in itself can of course be very serious, and the coughing brought on by the pneumonia would certainly make any cracked rib ordeal even worse. The best, and really the only treatment, is a combination of rest, protecting the rib from contact with hard objects or sudden movements, and the use of pain killers. In most cases, an over the counter pain killer may be sufficient. If the damage to the rib is not too severe, taking aspirin or ibuprofen may be sufficient. If the pain is too great, the doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication.


Even though the cracked rib may seem to be not too big of a deal, doctors often recommend occasional deep breathing and even an occasional cough as part of the treatment to keep the lungs clear and to prevent an onset of pneumonia. Obviously, the practice of deep breathing and coughing may cause some discomfort at first, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. Your doctor may also suggest that you lay on your injured side when you sleep. This would allow you to breathe more deeply during sleep, and from the perspective of health and healing, deep breathing is always much better for you than shallow breathing is.


Avoid Elastic Bandages


There is often a strong temptation to use tape or elastic bandages to provide some pressure and ease the pain. Use of elastic bandages is common practice among athletes and usually is the appropriate thing to do for many injuries or sprains. As far as the rib cage is concerned, however, the use of elastic bandages to treat cracked ribs is strictly taboo. The pressure will ease the pain, but will greatly interfere with breathing and lung function and can lead to problems. Having cracked ribs places you in the unenviable position of simply having to be patient and “tough it out”.