This leaflet provides information for patients with any of the following:
• Fractured (broken) ribs
• Fractured sternum (breastbone)
• Chest wall bruising
Injuries of the chest wall can be very painful.
Due to movement of the chest wall, deep breathing and coughing will be painful, but it is important to breathe and cough normally.
Chest wall injuries often take several weeks to get better. As a rough guide, a
patient with one broken/bruised rib can expect to be in pain for 3 – 6 weeks and to be in discomfort for several more weeks and even longer if more than one rib is involved. Try to keep mobile and avoid contact sport until pain resolves.
It may be helpful to sleep sitting upright for the first few nights.
There is no specific treatment for broken ribs and it is not always necessary to x-ray the chest, as the treatment for a broken rib is the same as that for a bruised chest.
This is to take painkillers and follow the guidelines that follow.
The main complication is stagnation of the normal chest secretions leading to chest infection. The risk is greater in smokers and people with chest disease.
To prevent infection, you must:
• Do regular deep breathing exercises i.e. 10 very deep breaths every hour.
• If you feel the need to cough, it is vital that you do cough to remove phlegm.
You should not suppress it, despite the pain. It will be more comfortable to
cough if you support the painful area with a pillow or, after a few days, your
Do take regular painkilling tablets, either as prescribe or as bought over the
counter (e.g. Ibuprofen or Paracetamol). This will make it easier to cough and
Do not take cough linctus.
Pain relief medication
Pain relief medication can help you to reduce the pain allowing you to
undertake any suggested exercises and movements of the injury. Moving will
help ease the pain and speed up your recovery significantly.
Simple pain relief medications such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are often all that is required.
Please read the medication instructions before taking anything.
See your General Practitioner (GP) if:
• You become short of breath
• You start to cough up green, yellow or blood-stained sputum (phlegm)
• You become unwell with a temperature
This leaflet gives guidance only. If you have any queries or your symptoms
worsen, please visit your GP, the Emergency Department, the minor injury
unit or urgent treatment centre.
Call 111 if you urgently need medical help or advice but it’s not a life-threatening situation.
For less urgent health needs, contact your GP or local pharmacist in the usual way.
Visit the Minor Injuries Unit webpage for more information about this service.