Emergency Department and Minor Injury Unit
You have been given this information because you have been diagnosed with a chest injury.
Broken (fractured) ribs are usually caused by a fall or blow to the chest. Occasionally this can occur by severe coughing, straining, or sports injuries. Sometimes the ribs are not broken, but there is bruising of ribs or nearby muscles
Children and babies are less likely to fracture ribs because their bones are more elastic. So, if a young child or baby has a rib fracture, it is important to know what caused the injury.
Symptoms of a chest injury can include:
- Pain on deep breathing, moving, or coughing
- Tenderness of the injured area when pressed
- Bruising to the chest wall
- Mild shortness of breath.
Treating a chest injury
Rib fractures may not show on an x-ray. If you have undergone an x-ray this is to check for complications such as a pneumothorax (collapsed lung). Therefore, if complications are not suspected and you are otherwise well, you may not need an X-ray.
It’s important you try to breathe normally to help clear mucus from your lungs and prevent chest infections. The best way to facilitate this is with regular pain killers. This is especially important for people who are more prone to chest infections, such as smokers and people with persistent (chronic) chest conditions.
In most cases, you can take care of broken or bruised ribs at home.
The following may also help:
Avoiding strenuous physical labour.
Keeping mobile between rest periods – walking around can help with your breathing and help clear any mucus from your lungs.
Holding a pillow against your chest if you need to cough.
Breathing exercises – take slow deep breaths letting your lungs inflate fully each time, and breathe out with pursed lips.
Recovering from a chest injury
Chest injuries can be very painful, but will normally improve within about three to six weeks.
Seek immediate medical assistance if any of the following occur:
• Increased shortness of breath.
• Coughing up blood.
If needed, painkiller options include the following:
Paracetamol is usually recommended for painful sprains or strains.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) relieve pain and may also limit inflammation and swelling. You can buy some types (for example, ibuprofen) at pharmacies, without a prescription either topically as a cream, or as tablets.
You should check the medication advice leaflet to ensure you are safe to take these as some patients with asthma or stomach ulcers may not be able to.
- The James Cook University Hospital, Marton Road, Middlesbrough, TS4 3BW
Telephone: 01642 850850
- The Friarage, Northallerton, North Yorkshire, DL6 1JG
Telephone: 01609 779911
- Redcar Primary Care Hospital, West Dyke Road, Redcar, TS10 4NW
Telephone: 01642 511000
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust would like your feedback. If you wish to share your experience about your care and treatment or on behalf of a patient, please contact The Patient Experience Department who will advise you on how best to do this.
This service is based at The James Cook University Hospital but also covers the Friarage Hospital in Northallerton, our community hospitals and community health services.