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Bruised Ribs - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

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Contusion that follows an injury to the rib area is called bruised ribs. Read the below article to know more about this condition.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Basuki Nath Bhagat

Published At October 28, 2022
Reviewed AtNovember 1, 2022

Introduction:

Have you ever experienced a hit or a blow on the chest? If so, you might know how painful it is, right? The hit or the blow suddenly transforms the skin color and causes symptoms such as pain, which might indicate a skin bruise. A skin bruise is not a serious condition that needs medical intervention. It mostly heals by itself without getting treated or by conservative treatments. However, it can sometimes be associated with internal problems such as a rib fracture, called a broken rib, that requires medical support. Read further to know the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for a bruised rib.

What Is a Bruise?

A bruise is nothing but a hematoma (collection of blood under the skin) that occurs from damage to small blood vessels. The only difference between a bruise and a hematoma is that large blood vessels are involved in the latter. A bruise is a red area noticed on the skin when a person gets hit with something. It results when the small blood vessels or capillaries in a particular area are damaged, thereby bleeding into the surrounding tissues under the skin. A bruise is also called a contusion.

What Are Bruised Ribs?

When taking a hit or suffering a fall on the chest, we might notice a redness developing on the chest shortly or sometime later after the fall; this redness is called a bruised rib. In simpler terms, a bruised rib is damage to the rib bone that does not involve a rib fracture. Sometimes, it might also be associated with a fractured rib; in such cases, it is called a broken rib and not a bruised rib. A broken rib can only be confirmed using an X-ray. The intensity and the skin color of the bruise usually vary depending on the severity, time of injury, etc.

What Are the Causes of Bruised Ribs?

Bruised ribs often result from any of the following;

  • Blow on the chest.

  • Accidents. Includes vehicle accidents or accidental falls from a high area, such as a ladder.

  • Fall or getting hit by something (fellow player or a ball) during sports.

  • Assault.

  • Strenuous exercises such as lifting heavy objects or weights can sometimes cause bruised ribs.

  • In rare cases, coughing too much or aggressively can cause bruised ribs.

What Are the Symptoms of Bruised Ribs?

The symptoms of a bruised rib often obviously involve a dark bruise in the rib or the chest area. Other symptoms include;

  • Change in skin color from normal to reddish, purplish, or brownish in the area of the bruise.

  • Swelling in the area of the bruise.

  • Pain and tenderness on touching.

  • Twitching of the chest muscles.

  • Deep breathing, especially when inhaling, coughing, and sneezing involving the chest muscles, can trigger the pain. Sometimes, pain exists even when not doing anything.

Sometimes, a broken rib might as well be encountered; in such cases, the same symptoms exist, along with cracking sounds of the bone.

How Is a Bruised Rib Diagnosed?

A bruised rib does not require any diagnostic tests. It is confirmed by clinical examination and patient history. However, if a fracture is suspected, imaging tests such as an X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) might be indicated.

How Is a Bruised Rib Treated?

Bruised ribs often subside by providing proper home care. Following are a few at-home care treatments for bruised ribs;

  • Rest from work for at least the first two to three days. Do not overexert yourself by lifting heavy weights or doing strenuous exercises; at the same time, refrain from lying in bed the whole day; instead, walk around a little bit.
  • Do slow and deep breathing exercises to activate your muscles.

  • Avoid habits such as alcohol, chewing tobacco, drugs, and smoking, as these can interfere with healing and delay it.

  • Try not to sleep on the affected side and try to sleep facing upwards in the upright position to prevent pressurizing the bruised site.

  • Be cautious while walking around, lying on the bed, or moving your body; to avoid accidentally bumping or getting hit on the affected area.

  • Do not hold sneezing or coughing; if resisted, the cough can build up in the lungs, causing infection.

  • Place ice packs wrapped in a cloth over the bruised area at least twice or thrice a day for the first two to three days or until the swelling subsides. Ice packs help ease the pain by numbing the area and decreasing the intensity of the redness caused by the bruise.

  • Take medications such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen in the right dosages after consulting with your physician and analyzing your condition. Caution must be taken in case of any underlying diseases or allergies; mention it to the physician while getting a prescription.

  • Do not wrap the bruise using a bandage or a tight cloth, as it can interfere with normal breathing.

  • Apply local NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) ointments or sprays over the affected area for faster healing. Thrombophob gel can be applied to treat skin discolorations caused due to rupturing of the capillaries.

In cases of the symptoms such as;

  • Breathing difficulty.

  • Blood in cough.

  • Continuous and severe pain.

  • Any allergy due to medications taken.

Or if the existing symptoms do not subside, visit a physician and get treated to avoid further complications.

How to Prevent a Bruised Rib?

Bruised ribs can be prevented by caution and practicing certain preventive measures while getting involved in sports activities such as,

  • Wear protective vests, a chest shield, or a guard while getting involved in sports activities such as boxing, wrestling, etc.

  • Fasten the seatbelt while driving.

  • Avoid getting punched as it could be problematic to the vital organs as well.

Conclusion:

A bruised rib is not a serious condition unless there is underlying organ damage. One does not have to be worried about organ damage right away after suffering an injury, as it is rarely the case. At-home care mostly treats this condition without the need for medical intervention. When a chest injury is suffered, identifying the bruise, providing proper care at the right time, and resting can aid in a speedy recovery. Also, when in doubt of a serious complication following a bruised rib, do not delay in calling and seeking help from your physician.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Are the Symptoms of Bruised Ribs?

The symptoms of bruised ribs commonly include pain in the affected area, tenderness upon touch, swelling around the injured area, and noticeable skin discoloration. Additionally, individuals with bruised ribs may experience difficulty breathing deeply and may find coughing to be uncomfortable. A general feeling of discomfort or pressure in the chest area can also be present.

2.

How Frequently Do People Experience Rib Bruising?

The frequency of rib bruising can vary based on several factors, including an individual's activities, occupation, lifestyle, and specific circumstances. Rib bruising is more commonly observed among individuals engaged in sports or physical activities that carry a risk of falling or experiencing direct blows to the chest area. Accidents and other incidents involving direct impact can also lead to rib bruising.

3.

Is It Advisable to Engage in Running While Having Bruised Ribs?

Engaging in running is not recommended while having bruised ribs. The repetitive movements and impact involved in running can worsen the pain and hinder the healing process of the ribs. High-impact activities like running can potentially prolong the recovery time. To promote proper healing, it is advisable to avoid activities that strain the injured area and focus on giving the ribs the rest they need.

4.

What Are Effective Methods to Accelerate the Healing Process of Bruised Ribs?

There are several methods that can help in the healing process of bruised ribs, which are giving adequate rest to the body, using over-the-counter pain relievers to manage the pain, and using cold compresses, which can help overcome inflammation. Apart from these, warm compression can promote blood circulation, deep breathing exercises, and gentle stretching can help in a faster healing process. Maintaining proper posture can help to minimize the strain.

5.

How Can One Determine if a Bruised Rib Requires Immediate Medical Attention?

Determining if a bruised rib requires immediate medical attention depends on the severity of the symptoms and the individual's overall condition. Worsening pain, difficulty in breathing, increased tenderness, and the presence of visible deformity require immediate treatment. Apart from these, symptoms such as fainting, vomiting, and dizziness require immediate treatment.

6.

Are Bruised Ribs a Significant Concern?

Yes, bruised ribs can be a significant concern. While they are not life-threatening, they can cause severe pain and can limit daily activities, therefore impacting the quality of life. Untreated cases can cause complications such as pneumonia, which is the inflammation of the lungs, fracture of ribs, and injury to internal organs.

7.

What Are Some Strategies for Sleeping Comfortably With Bruised Ribs?

Sleeping on the back with a cushion can provide support and help alleviate the pressure, and before going to bed, applying an ice pack can reduce the inflammation, which can help in sleeping comfortably. Also, wearing a rib case can help in stabilizing the ribs and decrease the movements during sleep. Apart from these, using pain medications and engaging in deep breathing exercises can help in reducing stress and promote improved sleep.

8.

Why Do Bruised Ribs Typically Take a Long Time to Heal?

Bruised ribs can take a relatively long time to heal due to several factors, such as limited blood supply, the constant movement of the chest due to breathing, susceptibility to reinjury since it is located in the front part of the body, and activities such as sneezing, coughing can delay the healing process. Apart from these, if there are fractures of the rib and underlying health conditions like osteoporosis (a type of bone disorder that decreases bone density), it can delay the healing process.

9.

What Are Some Home Remedies for Alleviating Rib Pain?

Some home remedies for relieving rib pain include taking adequate rest, using ice compression, or heat therapy can help in relieving rib pain. Using pain medications and compression garments can help in stabilizing the ribs. Apart from this, deep breathing, exercising, gentle stretching, and maintaining proper posture can help alleviate rib pain.

10.

How Long Does It Usually Take for Bruises to Disappear?

Usually, bruises take a few weeks to heal, but several factors are involved in the healing process. A red or purplish color occurs immediately after the injury; this turns into blackish or bluish after two days and turns into yellowish or greenish, which indicates the reabsorption of blood from the body. Fading takes within two weeks of the injury and completely disappears after three weeks.

11.

Is It Possible to Participate in Exercise With a Cracked Rib?

No, it is not recommended to be involved in any physical activities when there is a cracked rib. Because such activities can lead to increased pain, delayed healing, and complications. Cracked ribs require time to heal. Therefore, it is important to provide adequate rest and avoid any pressure around the area.

12.

Should Walking Be Avoided When Dealing With Bruised Ribs?

No, walking is considered safe and can also help in the healing process of bruised ribs. Walking can help improve blood circulation, reduce stiffness, and reduce mobility without applying excess pressure on the ribs. However, if walking causes more discomfort and pain, it has to be avoided, and adequate rest should be obtained since healing requires adequate rest.

13.

What Are the Indicators That Rib Pain Is Muscular in Nature?

Indicators of muscular rib pain include experiencing heightened pain during activities like bending, twisting, or stretching, tenderness upon touch, and localized pain in a specific area. Muscle-related symptoms like spasms, stiffness, or tightness may also be present. Furthermore, the absence of symptoms such as difficulty in breathing or chest tightness suggests that the pain originates from a muscular source.

14.

Does Applying Heat Worsen the Condition of Bruises?

During the initial stages of bruises, heat therapy is not recommended as it can potentially increase inflammation and hinder the healing process. Instead, it is more beneficial to apply ice therapy to reduce inflammation. Once the bruises have begun to heal, heat therapy can be introduced to increase blood supply, alleviate stiffness, and aid in muscle relaxation.

15.

Why Do Bruised Ribs Tend to Be More Painful During Nighttime?

During nighttime, bruised ribs can cause increased pain due to decreased activities and the body being at rest, which can heighten the sensitivity to pain signals. Additionally, certain sleeping positions may apply direct pressure to the ribs, exacerbating the pain. The reduced distractions and quiet surroundings at night can also shift the body's focus towards the pain, making it more noticeable.

16.

Is It Safe to Bend Over With Bruised Ribs?

It is not recommended to bend over with bruised ribs as it can intensify the pressure on the affected area, leading to discomfort and increased pain. It is advisable to avoid activities that involve bending or putting direct pressure on the ribs. Instead, squatting can be a preferable alternative as it involves fewer twisting motions and reduces strain on the injured ribs.

17.

Do Cracked Ribs Heal Without Medical Intervention?

Cracked ribs typically have the potential to heal naturally within approximately six weeks. During this healing period, it is important to provide the body with adequate rest and avoid activities that involve bending or exertion. Pain management can be achieved through the use of painkillers as recommended by a healthcare professional. Additionally, applying ice packs can help reduce swelling and inflammation, while practicing proper breathing techniques can aid in pain relief and promote healing.

Dr. Basuki Nath Bhagat
Dr. Basuki Nath Bhagat

Family Physician

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