How Long Does It Take Bruised Ribs to Heal?

Reviewed on 9/7/2022

Man with rib pain seeing a doctor
Healing time for a bruised rib can take between two to six weeks.

A bruised rib is an injury to the rib, in which small blood vessels are torn and leak blood under the skin but the rib bone is not fractured. Because the bruise, also called a contusion, is on the rib it often cannot be seen although the injury that causes it may also cause bruising on the skin in the area of the bruised rib. 

Most of the time, a bruised rib will heal on its own within two to six weeks.

What Are Symptoms of Bruised Ribs?

It may be difficult to tell if a rib is bruised or broken because symptoms can be the same, and may include:

  • Intense pain in the chest area
    • Pain may be worse when inhaling, coughing, or sneezing
  • Swelling or tenderness around the affected ribs
  • Bruising on the skin

Seek immediate medical care if you have:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • A fever
  • A new or worse cough 
  • New or worsening pain

What Causes Bruised Ribs?

A bruised rib, much like a broken rib, can be a result of an injury to the chest that can be caused by: 

  • Falls
  • A blow or hit to the chest 
    • Common in sports
  • Severe coughing

How Are Bruised Ribs Diagnosed?

A bruised rib is diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination. 

An X-ray is usually not needed because bruising would not be visible, however, if a fracture is suspected an X-ray may be needed.

What Is the Treatment for Bruised Ribs?

Bruised ribs usually heal on their own. Home remedies to help relieve pain and speed healing include: 

  • Rest 
  • Stop any activity that causes pain
  • Protect the injured or sore area
  • Ice the affected area regularly for 10 to 20 minutes at a time for the first few days to reduce swelling
  • After two to three days, if swelling is gone, use a heating pad on low
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines
  • Sleep sitting up for the first few nights if possible
  • Breathe normally
  • Walk around and move the shoulders to help you breathe 
  • Cough when you need to 
    • This helps clear mucus from the lungs to prevent chest infections
    • Hold a pillow to the chest if needed when coughing 
  • Avoid:
    • Wrapping the chest with a bandage which could stop the lungs from properly expanding
    • Lying down or staying still for long periods
    • Straining or lifting heavy objects
    • Sports or exercise that causes or worsens pain
    • Smoking

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Reviewed on 9/7/2022
References
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Image source: iStock Images

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/broken-or-bruised-ribs/