First Aid for Rib Fractures

Fact Checked

Rib injuries are not very common because ribs are hard to break. The ribs are surrounded by strong muscles making them resistant to damage. However, adults are more susceptible to suffer from rib fractures because unlike them, children have more flexible bones. Most rib injury cases are reported to be due to car accidents; whether it involves adults or children. Other cases include falling off heights, falling off horses and sports injuries. Even forceful coughing in pneumonia patients may lead to rib fractures.

Broken rib fractures are often not very severe such as incomplete fractures. The breakage does not go all the way through and it thus, not as harmful as a complete bone fracture. In complete bone fractures, broken ribs cannot be moved. If they can be moved, they are called displaced rib fractures. Displaced rib fractures may puncture the lungs or damage other tissues and organs. When ribs stay in one place, they are called non-displaced rib fractures.

Signs and symptoms

Rib fractures are often a cause of a forceful blow that directly hits the ribs. Often ribs 4-9 are affected and broken because they are the ones that experience the most pressure during a direct blow. Symptoms include:

  • Severe pain while breathing, sneezing, laughing, talking or any movement of the chest
    Human Ribs
    The picture above show a simple diagram of the human ribs
  • Breathlessness
  • An audible ‘crunch’ sound is heard during the impact (crepitus)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Blood in urine


More than one rib bone may break during an accident. If more than 3 bones are broken, this can be a life-threatening issue but of course, you will not know for sure until an X-ray is done to examine the severity of the damage. If you see the symptoms of rib damage, take the patient to the emergency department immediately.

Broken bones heal with time and the condition does not aggravate during the healing process. Unfortunately, it is a very painful experience and there is not much you can do about it.

Treatment in the past included wrapping the chest with a large band called a rib belt. However studies show that this does not really benefit the patient in any way so it is better left undone in case of a rib injury emergency. Treatment for broken ribs includes taking pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen. When you report to the emergency room, the doctor will first give you a prescription for pain killing drugs.

During the healing process, it is important that you take care of your ribs with caution. Maintain proper health for your ribs to heal and practice deep breaths through deep breathing exercises. Take pain medication prescribed by your doctor because you have to keep the pain under control while you take deep breaths.

The doctor might give you a tool called an incentive spirometer when you go to the emergency room. This tool helps you take deep breaths as it measures the lung capacity to check the recovery level of the lungs.

Additional Information on Rib Fractures

To learn to recognize and manage victims with rib fractures take a St Mark James training class with a credible provider. To view the leading providers in Canada click here.




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