The ribs are a set of bones that course from your spinal column, around your body and attach to your sternum or breastbone. These bones serve to protect the contents of your thoracic cavity. They also serve as an attachment point for many muscles and are active during respiration. Overall, you have a total of 24 ribs, of which there are 12 on each side of your body. The most typical ribs are the third to the ninth and are alike in structure and function. Each rib arises from the thoracic vertebra for which it’s named:
- Rib number three arises from your third thoracic vertebrae.
- Rib number seven arises from your seventh thoracic vertebrae.
Generally, there are three parts of each rib, which are the head, the neck, and the shaft (or body) of the rib. The head of your ribs are shaped like a wedge and has two very specific areas called facets. These facets articulate with your spinal vertebrae.
Ribs are difficult to break. They are a bony framework that protects the vital organs located within the chest cavity. They are also surrounded by strong muscles and typically can take a lot of abuse before they crack.
When a bruise or contusion occurs over any part of the rib cage, it is called a ‘bruised rib’. Typically, the rib bone itself is not bruised, only the tissues between the skin and the bone. Oftentimes, trauma to the rib area will bruise rib cartilage, which results in a collection of blood in or around the fibrous tissues between the rib bones.
The damage to any of the tissues around the rib cage can be quite painful, and it can be difficult to determine if the problem is a bruised rib or a pulled muscle. For instance, any sort of physical activity, such as weight training, may damage ligaments and rib cartilage. However, a pulled muscle or inflamed ligament usually will not leave a visible skin bruise the way a rib contusion does.
Causes & Symptoms of Bruised Ribs
Bruised ribs are often misdiagnosed by other conditions, especially by broken ribs. Both broken ribs and bruised ribs can result from injuries to the chest – they might feel similar, however, there are some major differences:
A bruised rib is an injury that does not cause a break in the bone. Rib bruises tend to happen with lower-impact injuries, such as a fall.
A broken rib, which is the same condition as a fractured rib, describes an actual break in the bone. It is usually a more serious injury than a bruise. You’re more likely to have a broken rib if the injury involved a lot of force. A broken rib tends to be more painful, and it may take longer to heal.
Bruised ribs are usually the result of a blow to the ribcage. This can occur during sports that use a ball or involve person-to-person contact. Bruised ribs also occur commonly due to vehicle accidents or falls. Prolonged sneezing or coughing also can cause rib contusions. Other conditions, such as a fractured rib or damaged cartilage, can happen in conjunction with bruised ribs.
These conditions typically result from a forceful blow to the ribs. Rib contusions caused by a motor vehicle accident or a fall from an extreme height should be treated immediately by a healthcare provider because the rib bruise could indicate other serious injuries that have occurred alongside the bruised rib. Rib contusions in the lower back, for instance, could be accompanied by a lacerated kidney, which can very well be life-threatening.
Furthermore, a condition known as costochondritis may cause pain along the sternum that might feel like bruised ribs but without any visible bruising and without any known injury. Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that joins the rib bones to the breastbone. Occasionally, costochondritis also causes swelling along with inflammation, which might make you wonder if you have bruised ribs.
One of the most common symptoms of a bruised rib is chest pain when you take a deep breath. Inhaling deeply may impact your ribs even more. Laughing, coughing, or sneezing can also send sharp pains shooting from the site of the bruise. You may also notice swelling and redness around the injury. Depending on the location of the bruising, bending over or twisting your upper body may also trigger sudden pain. Striking or pressing on the injured area will cause pain for at least several days.
Another symptom linked to bruised ribs is restlessness. You may find it difficult to find a better position to sleep due to the affected rib causing pain in your chest while sleeping face-up or even on your side, thus leading to a lack of rest.
Other symptoms that are known to present while experiencing a bruised rib include:
- Dizziness, tired, or sleepy
- Fear and anxious
Who gets Bruised Ribs?
There are a number of risk factors that can cause serious and life-threatening complications. Some of these include the following:
As you age, your bones and muscles may become weaker, which can increase your risk of falling and developing a rib contusion or fracture.
Having a chronic and / or forceful cough can lead you to slowly injure your ribcage.
Sports such as football, basketball, rugby, wrestling, or boxing all have a likelihood of experiencing a bruised rib because of the repetitive chest and ribcage impact that are presented in the chosen sport.
Regular occupational activities, such as construction workers and carpenters, have increased chances of bruised ribs if he or she falls or slips from a great height.
How Does a Bruised Rib Affect You? How Serious is it?
Some rib bruising injuries can cause further life-threatening complications, such as:
Pneumonia is a lung infection that can range from mild to severe that requires immediate medical attention. It occurs when an infection causes the air sacs in your lungs to fill with excessive fluid or pus. Therefore, if you do not breathe deeply enough, mucous and moisture can build up in the lungs and lead to an infection such as pneumonia.
A collapsed lung occurs when are gets inside the chest cavity and creates pressure against the lung. Also known as pneumothorax, the collapsed lung is a rare condition that may cause chest pain and make it hard to breathe. One of the causes that can result in a collapsed lung is being punctured from a bruised rib.
Lung cancer is one of the most common cancerous conditions throughout the population. One of the symptoms of lung cancer is ribcage pain or chest pain that worsens upon breathing deeply, coughing, or laughing. Having bruised ribs can increase the chance of spreading lung cancer in your ribs if left untreated.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation for Bruised Ribs
Diagnosing a bruised rib begins with a review of your symptoms and a physical examination. Your doctor will also observe your chest while you breathe to see if any lung function may have been affected. A bruised or broken rib may be accompanied by a visible bruise on your skin.
Whether a bruise is visible or not, however, your symptoms may require an X-ray. Your rib may have a slight fracture that isn’t detected with an X-ray. In this case, a Computed Tomography (CT) scan may help your doctor differentiate a break from a bruise. Other helpful diagnostic tools include chest Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
A rib bruise will not appear on an X-ray, but it can often be detected with an MRI. A bone scan can be particularly helpful in diagnosing a bruised rib caused by repetitive action, such as excessive coughing or rowing, especially when it’s not visible on rib detail X-rays.
Following a bruised rib, the injured area can become stiff due to pain and tightness in the chest region. Thoracic mobility with rotations and extensions can help avoid these issues and should be part of your exercise rehabilitation regime once the rib pain has subsided.
If you have pain or stiffness which does not fully settle with range of movement and breathing exercises your physiotherapist may use manual therapy techniques to help relieve pain and enable you to further progress with your rehabilitation. There are many different types of manual therapy and the type of treatment utilized that your physiotherapist will likely work with you. Manual therapy has been shown to have a neurophysiological effect, which reduces pain.
Once you have recovered from your rib pain, you can perform a selected amount of exercises at home to boost your recovery and return to your regular activities. Therefore, the following exercises include the following:
Sit upright in a chair and lift your arms, bending your elbows to 90 degrees. Alternatively, you can try to raise your arms and interlock your fingers. Next, gently squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another. Hold for 5-10 seconds and release. Return your arms to their original position, then repeat this stretch 5-10 times a day.
Bucket handle breathing
Sitting upright in a chair, place your hands on your sides. This is where your lower rib cage is located. Inhale slowly, breathing so your sides push into your hands. Hold for 10 seconds and exhale slowly before reacting this exercise 5-10 times a day.
Diaphragmatic breathing exercise
Sit upright in a chair and place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen. Then, inhale slowly and focus on pushing your stomach into your hand. Try to make sure your upper hand remains motionless. Tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale slowly, then repeat this exercise 5-10 times a day.
Sit upright in a chair and place your hands over your fractured rib area. You can also hold a pillow to your chest for support. Take a deep breath, and slowly and gently fill your lungs. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds, then exhale slowly. Finally, cough gently to help loosen mucus before repeating 5 times a day.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment for Bruised Ribs
Most rib injuries take around 6 weeks to fully recover. Therefore, here are some homeopathic treatments that may help improve symptoms linked to bruised ribs:
Using Epsom salts during a warm shower can help reduce the inflammation of the bruised ribs. Epsom salts can be purchased over-the-counter.
Turmeric is known to be one of the strongest home remedies for treating certain injuries. Turmeric’s active ingredient, curcumin, is a potent anti-inflammatory, which is an effective painkiller and also speeds healing.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs)
Medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen will support you in reducing further swelling and inflammation located in your affected rib. A pain-reliever cream may also be used to heal the affected area.
Applying ice to the affected area may increase your recovery process by reducing swelling and inflammation. This is a great alternative if you choose to avoid taking oral anti-inflammatory medications.
If you often smoke, reducing or stopping it will benefit the healing process after a bruised rib.