Ribs are the bones of chest that protect our heart and lungs. We have 24 ribs, 12 in each side of the ribcage. Besides protecting the lungs, these ribs also play an important role in the breathing process. However, their location in the front of the body makes them vulnerable to injuries. When a person falls chest forward, or receives a direct blow to the chest region during an assault, contact sports, accidents, etc. the ribs can get bruised. Chronic coughing due to bronchitis, pneumonia, etc. can also result in a bruised rib.
Bruised ribs are different from broken or cracked ribs in a way that in broken ribs the injury is directly inflicted upon the bone, while in bruised ribs the surrounding muscle area is affected. Bruised ribs are not as dangerous as broken ribs because broken ribs can injure the heart and lungs. In a bruised rib, blow to the front of the chest region, causes the ribs to push against the chest muscles, thereby injuring the surrounding chest muscles. As a result they cannot be detected in an X-ray. However, the doctor may ask for an X-ray to rule out a broken rib.
The possibility of bruised ribs can be confirmed by the presence of certain symptoms. Breathlessness, tenderness and swelling near the bruised area, and pain while breathing, are the first few symptoms of a bruised rib. Coughing, sneezing, laughing, etc. also become painful. These symptoms should never be ignored, because when ignored, the condition can worsen.
Bruised Ribs Healing Time
Bruised ribs are notorious for their long healing time. Unfortunately, unlike other bones of the body, ribs cannot be placed in a cast, which is why we need to wait for them to heal on their own. Typical healing time for bruised ribs is anywhere between 3 to 6 weeks. However, some may take even longer. The actual healing time required will vary depending on the severity of the bruise and muscle injury. Those involved in sports activities or physically demanding jobs, will need to give a few more weeks for the bruised rib to heal completely. They should wait for the green signal from the doctor before getting back to work.
Once the bruised rib has been diagnosed, it is important to protect them from further damage. The physician will give the necessary precautionary measures to be taken to prevent possible damage. Unlike cracked or broken ribs, which if untreated may damage lungs or heart, bruised ribs do not pose direct threat to these vital organs. However, they can be extremely uncomfortable and painful to deal with. Since, the ribs move every time you breathe, you are likely to experience sharp pain with each breath you take. As a result people tend to unconsciously take shallow breaths. This may have serious implications as shallow breathing often results in severe respiratory problems or even pneumonia.
Speeding up the Healing Process
As mentioned above, bruised ribs heal on their own and there is nothing you can do to heal them instantly. Although, they take their own time to heal naturally, you can certainly carry out a few steps to accelerate the recovery time.
Resting is the best thing one can do to help promote healing, because movement aggravates the problem. It is best to avoid all possible activities that can cause strain to the bruised area. Activities like bending, lifting, carrying, etc. should be avoided for a few days. Lying down on the bed, either sleeping, watching television or reading a book, can prevent unwanted strain.
The bruised muscle is likely to be very tender and sore for several days. Icing the area for 20 minutes several times a day can help provide pain relief. Application of ice packs is also recommended to promote healing of the bruised rib. The ice pack will produce vasoconstriction, which in turn prevents any kind of bleeding or clot formation.
Slow, Deep Breaths
Due to the pain caused by the bruised rib, you tend to take smaller or shorter breaths. However, shallow breathing is not good, because it can result in pneumonia and lung infection. This is why it is very important to make conscious efforts to breathe deeply. Deep breathing also keeps the chest muscles in shape.
Depending on the severity of the bruise, the amount of pain experienced will vary. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen and narcotic pain medications are usually prescribed to relieve the pain. These medicines also help the person breathe better.
Wrapping or bandaging the chest to promote healing of ribs used to be a common treatment method for bruised and cracked ribs. However, these days, doctors advise against wrapping ribs because it constricts your breathing and forces you to take rapid, shallow breaths. Alternatively you can opt for rib support belt, which may help to keep the affected rib in place. But make sure it does not restrict your breathing in any way. You must consult your doctor before going in for a rib supporter.
You might have to put up with pain and discomfort throughout the healing time, which is not more than 3 to 6 weeks. However, it is important to remember to never attempt to treat yourself. You could inflict a permanent damage to the rib by disturbing its alignment. This may lead to several respiratory problems, which will probably stay with you for the rest of your life. Moreover, get medical help as soon as possible if you experience unbearable pain, increased difficulty in breathing, or bluish coloration in the chest.
This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.