Rib bruise

Rib bruise

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What to do in case of bruised ribs?

Ribs are thin bones that perform an important role in the body. They protect the lungs, the heart and the chest cavity. Trauma to the chest area, such as from a fall or impact, can result in an injury to the ribs, commonly referred to as Rib bruise (Rib contusion) referred to as. In addition to swelling of the tissue, injuries to the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) and a consequent blood leakage into the surrounding tissue occur in rib bruises, which is usually visible as bruising.

Rib bruise: symptoms

The main symptom of bruised ribs is chest pain or rib pain. This pain may worsen on inhalation. Laughing, coughing, bending, or sneezing can also cause severe pain. Other complaints that can occur with a bruised rib are:

  • Sensitivity to touch in the rib area,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Swelling at the injured area,
  • bruises (hematomas),
  • Cramps or twitching in the chest muscles.

In the case of a bruised rib, the affected trunk area is tender to pressure. A bruise or a small, patchy bleeding of the skin (ecchymosis) is not always clearly recognizable. Affected people often adopt gentle postures to avoid pain. This incorrect posture can lead to further complaints such as muscle tension between the shoulder blades and the sternum.

Rib contusion: causes

The cause of the rib bruise is often a blunt trunk trauma, for example triggered by a violent impact or fall. This can happen, for example, in a car accident, a sport such as soccer or martial arts or even when falling down a ladder or stairs. The forces acting on the tissue injure or squeeze the thin and pain-sensitive periosteum. This can be accompanied by swelling, bruising and nerve irritation.


The course of a bruised rib is individually very different and depends on the severity of the previous trauma. However, a course of four weeks or more is not uncommon.


A bruise can often be differentiated from a broken rib by palpation, but due to similar symptoms, a possible broken rib must be excluded by additional diagnostic procedures. Therefore, an imaging procedure is usually carried out. Because in the event of a break, there is a risk of internal injuries. As a complication, a so-called pneumothorax can occur, for example, in which air from the lungs penetrates into the otherwise empty space between the chest and lungs. In addition, a bony injury to the thoracic spine, a herniated disc, inflammation of a nerve and internal diseases must be excluded in the diagnosis in order to treat the injury appropriately.

Rib contusion: treatment

Rib injuries are difficult to treat. Unlike a broken arm, the ribs cannot be plastered in. Therapy is usually conservative - no surgery is required. The pain is primarily treated with medication. Immediately after the trauma, it makes sense to cool the affected area, both to relieve pain and to counteract the swelling. Those affected should keep their torso still as much as possible and absolutely refrain from sporting activities for the next few weeks. Since crushed ribs cause pain when inhaled, breathing can flatten out. This should be prevented by pain medication, injections or special breathing techniques. In addition, heat treatments, hydrotherapy and massages can relieve pain and promote blood circulation.

During the course of therapy, care should be taken to ensure that secretions in the bronchi are coughed up properly so that they do not accumulate and provide a breeding ground for germs. In the worst case, pneumonia can develop. In the case of severe bruised ribs, breathing therapy helps to prevent this. (vb, ps)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Talbot BS, Gange CP Jr, Chaturvedi A, Klionsky N, Hobbs SK, Chaturvedi A .: Traumatic Rib Injury: Patterns, Imaging Pitfalls, Complications, and Treatment, RadioGraphics Feb. 2017, pubs.rsna.org
  • T. Schönfeld, E. Wiesner, H. Seggewiß, A. Rothhammer: NSTEMI as differential diagnosis for thoracic trauma, Thieme Verlag, Der Notarzt 2010, thieme-connect.com
  • Eric J. Morley, MD, MS; Scott Johnson, MD; Evan Leibner, MD, PhD; Jawad Shahid, MD: Emergency department evaluation and management of blunt chest and lung trauma (Trauma CME), Emerg Med Pract. JUNE 2016, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  • National Health Service UK (NHS): Broken or bruised ribs (accessed: 10.09.2019), nhs.uk

ICD codes for this disease: S20ICD codes are internationally valid encryption codes for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Rib Self (December 2022).