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Rib Fracture

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Rib Fracture

(Broken Rib; Fracture, Rib)


A rib fracture is a break in a rib bone.

Multiple Rib Fractures with Damage to Lung.

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Rib fractures may be caused by:

  • 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 a 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. Questions will also be asked how the injury happened. An exam will be done that focuses on the chest, lungs, and back.

Pictures of the chest will be taken. This can be done with:


It can take 3 to 6 weeks to heal. The goal of treatment is to help the bones heal properly to prevent long term problems. This can be done by giving them time to rest.

Pain may make it hard to take deep breaths. This can increase the risk of lung infections like pneumonia. Pain medicine and breathing exercises can help lower the risk.


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.




  • Broken or bruised ribs. NHS website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rib-injuries/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
  • 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.
  • Rib fracture. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/thoracic-trauma/rib-fracture.


  • Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated:

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.