Rib Fracture



A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone.

Multiple Rib Fractures with Damage to Lung
broken ribs resized
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Some causes are:

  • A direct blow to the rib, such as from a motor vehicle accident or contact sports
  • Repetitive trauma from sports such as rowing and golfing
  • Crushing of the chest, such as from having cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
  • Severe coughing

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of rib fracture are:

  • Playing contact sports
  • Doing activities with repetitive upper body movement, such as rowing, golf, and some jobs
  • Having a chronic cough



Symptoms may be:

  • Pain, often when breathing or coughing
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Problems breathing


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You will also be asked how the injury happened. An exam will be done that focuses on your chest, lungs, and back. A break in the ribs can be confirmed with:

  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan
  • Ultrasound



It can take 3 to 6 weeks for a rib fracture to heal. The bones can heal on their own with proper rest.

Pain may make it hard to take deep breaths. This can increase the risk of lung infection like pneumonia. Pain medicine will make breathing more comfortable. You may also be given breathing exercises. They may decrease the risk of pneumonia.


Most fractures are due to accidents. To lower the risk:

  • Wear a seat belt when you are in a motor vehicle.
  • Wear protective equipment, such as rib pads, when playing contact sports.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Broken Rib; Fracture, Rib)


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians https://familydoctor.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://www.orthoinfo.org 


The Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons http://www.plasticsurgery.ca 

The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca 


Broken or bruised ribs. NHS Choices website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rib-injuries/Pages/Introduction.aspx. Updated December 15, 2017. Accessed September 30, 2020.

Murphy CE 4th, Raja AS, et al. Rib Fracture Diagnosis in the Panscan Era. Ann Emerg Med. 2017 Dec;70(6):904-909.

Rib fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/rib-fracture-emergency-management. Accessed September 30, 2020.

Rib fracture. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture. Accessed September 30, 2020.