What is broken rib?

Broken rib in children: Overview

A broken rib is a crack or break in one of the bones of the rib cage. Breathing can be very painful, because the muscles used for breathing pull on the rib.

In most cases, a broken rib will heal on its own. Your child can take pain medicine while the rib mends. Pain relief allows your child to take deep breaths. In the past, doctors recommended taping or wrapping broken ribs. This is no longer done, because taping makes it hard to take deep breaths. Taking deep breaths at least once an hour may help prevent pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung.

Your child's rib will heal in about 6 weeks.

Healthy habits can help your child heal. Give your child a variety of healthy foods. And don't smoke around your child.

Rib fracture

A rib fracture is a crack or break in one of the bones of the rib cage.

A rib fracture is most often caused by a direct blow to the chest. Other causes include forceful coughing or having thin bones (such as from osteoporosis or cancer).

A rib fracture can be very painful:

  • At the site where the chest was injured (localized pain).
  • With deep breathing.
  • When pressure is applied to the injured area.

The treatment for a rib fracture that does not occur with a more serious injury is usually rest, ice to the area, and medicine to relieve pain.

What are the symptoms of a broken rib?

A broken rib may cause pain in the injured area. It can make it hard to take a breath or breathe deeply. Or it may cause pain around your breastbone. If you can't breathe normally you may feel short of breath, anxious, restless, or scared. You also may have a headache.

How is a broken rib treated?

Most broken ribs are treated at home and will heal on their own. The doctor may prescribe pain medicines or advise you to take over-the-counter pain medicine. You may be asked to cough or take the deepest breath you can once an hour.

How is a broken rib diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask questions about your injury and do a physical exam. The doctor may push on your chest to see where you hurt. The doctor may listen to your lungs and heart and look for other injuries. You may get an X-ray or other imaging test.

How can you care for your child who has a broken rib?

  • Be safe with medicines. Give pain medicines exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave your child a prescription medicine for pain, give it as prescribed.
    • If your child is not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask the doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not give your child two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Help your child cough or take the deepest breath possible at least once every hour, even if your child feels some pain. This will get air deeply into the lungs. This may reduce your child's chance of getting pneumonia or a partial collapse of a lung. Hold a pillow against your child's chest to make this less painful.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Try to do this every 1 to 2 hours for the next 3 days (when your child is awake). Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.

What is a broken rib?

A broken rib (also called a fracture) is a crack or break in one of the bones of the rib cage. A break in the thick tissue (cartilage) that connects the ribs to the breastbone may also be called a broken rib, even if the bone itself is not broken.

How can you care for yourself when you have a broken rib?

You can help heal a broken rib with rest, ice, and pain medicine. You may get a prescription or over-the-counter pain medicine. Try to cough or take the deepest breath you can every hour. This may help prevent pneumonia or a collapsed lung. Use ice for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.

Broken rib in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has some trouble breathing.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a cough that gets worse. For example, call if your child has a dry cough that turns into a wet cough, bringing up mucus from the lungs.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child has pain even after taking pain medicine.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.