Bruised ribs are caused by coughing too hard, contusions in the rib cage area and strenuous exercises.
It is normal to feel pain in the rib cage when you have cracked ribs. Symptoms include difficulty in breathing and swelling.
Rib injuries are common in sportsmen and women. The most common ones include torn cartilage, bone fractures or rib cracks, broken ribs and bruised ribs.
Bruising is more common than the others. Symptoms of any kind of injury to the rib cage may include pain when moving or flexing, muscle spasms, coughing up blood and breathing difficulties. Bruising alone may not produce such symptoms unless there are additional, more severe injuries.
What does a bruise on the rib cage look like? Normally, bruises appear as areas of discolored skin on the body, appearing as either red or black.
A blow or any kind of impact can rapture blood vessels beneath the skin. The broken capillaries and damaged soft tissues are what contribute to the color of the bruise.
The pictures of ribcage bruising included on this page can help you understand what such contusions look like on the skin. The colors may differ depending on the stage of healing the bruise is in.
What does it feel like?
Bruised ribs feel painful when you breathe in. According to the NHS, you are likely to feel like you cannot take deep breaths.
When the rib cage is injured, it is also common that the injured person will feel some tenderness, swelling or inflammation around the area with the injury.
Broken, cracked, bruised or fractured ribs will also feel painful or sore. When you push your breast bone or sternum, you may also feel some pain or discomfort. While bruises may mean artificial injury to the blood vessels, they could also hint to deeper and more serious injuries such as fractured and broken ribs. See your doctor for check-up.
The causes of bruised ribs, mostly in sports people, are pressure and blows to the chest and thorax area. Contact sports such as football and rugby have bruising as one of their main and most common injuries. Accidents too can result in bruising in the rib and breast area. Here are other most common causes of rib bruises.
1. Bruised ribs from coughing
Can you get a bruise on the ribs from coughing too much? Yes you can. According to Dr. Bernad Seif, a clinical psychologist on Health Tap, “You can bruise the Intercostal muscles between the ribs by intense coughing. It is even possible to break a rib.”
Irritants and allergens can cause severe cough. If you cough repetitively, the contractions in the chest cavity can hurt the ribs. Pleurisy and other infections are known to cause severe coughing that can cause injury to the ribs.
The trauma suffered by ribs can also worsen for pregnant women. This is because of the reduced space in the thoracic cavity. It makes it easy for bruises to occur. Some diseases and infections too, as we have discussed below are known to cause violent and persistent coughing and rib bruising. The healing time for cough bruises should however be shorter but dependent on how fast you will stop the cough.
2. Pneumonia, bronchitis and whooping cough
Both bruised lungs and ribs may be due to diseases that cause severe cough. According to MD Health, “Repeated coughing bouts from pneumonia, whooping cough, or bronchitis can likewise cause rib bruises.”
As we have already discussed, coughing too much increases the friction between the intercostal muscles in your rib cage, causing minor injuries to them. Blood vessels crack and burst, causing small clots just below the skin in the rib area.
While bruised ribs due to bronchitis and whooping cough are a consequence of these infections, bruising your ribs can also lead to pneumonia. MedicineNet.com lists pneumonia as one of the major complications of rib injuries.
- Rib injuries such as cracks, fractures and bruises make it painful and difficult to breathe.
- Since it will hurt to take deep breaths as usual, the breathing mechanism gets altered.
- The lung underlying the rib injury may not expand fully because you are unable to tolerate the pain.
- The stagnant lung tissue and air that results from this encourages lung infections such as pneumonia.
3. A fall and accidents
Bruises from a fall commonly occur in pregnant women and sports people. The most common type of fall that causes injuries to the rib cage is when you fall with a hard object between your rib cage and the ground.
For example, an injury such as a broken rib can occur when a football player falls on his side with the helmet or ball between ground and his body. Other accidental falls can also result in contusions and bruises to the kidneys, lungs and abdomen area.
Car accidents are also a major cause. According to MedScape, sitting closer (10 inches or less) to where an airbag is likely to deploy can cause bruising and other injuries in the thoracic region when motor automobile accidents occur.
Dr. Rami Khouzam of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis explains that “Cardiac injuries can happen due to airbag deployment even with no visible injury at the time of presentation to the hospital, and this may include serious cardiac injuries.”
4. Sports and exercise
When it comes to a bruised rib vs. cracked rib or contusion vs. a minor fracture, people who are prone to sports injuries may often get confused telling the difference. The symptoms of contusions and small fractures may appear to be similar. The major difference is that a bruised bone or rib will take just a few days to heal while a cracked bone will take longer to heal.
Sports and exercises that are known to cause rib injuries and bruises include, boxing, American football, running, bench press, jiu jitsu, golf (golf swing) rowing, volleyball, mountain biking, karting, kiteboarding and weightlifting. If you are prone to random bruising no reason, try to reduce these sports.
5. Baby kicking during pregnancy
During the third trimester of pregnancy, most women complain of rib pain that remains persistent for a long time. The injuries may be caused by the baby kicking near and around the rib cage area. If the kicks are strong and you suffer from weak bones, it is possible that you will get the contusions.
Another cause of rib bruising during pregnancy is the need to breathe hard to meet the increased oxygen demand in the body as the baby grows.
Breathing hard may cause rib flaring and sore ribs. According to Pregnant 2Day, during pregnancy you may feel the “baby beginning to press up under you ribs and chest. This is the uterus ascending as the abdomen becomes stretched upward and outward with the growing baby.”
6. Underwire bra and chest binding
Wearing underwire bras can cause bruising in the rib area. Some people complain that while the bras support and shape the breast, they come with a few side effects.
These include pinching, digging into the breast flesh and cutting off circulation in the torso area. If you experience pain after wearing an underwire bra, it is likely that the skin is sore and you are suffering from a rib bruise.
Female-to-male transition (FTM) binding can also produce contusions in the breast region. When done poorly, it can cause costochondritis or rib inflammation and bruises. Lung collapse and broken ribs are also some of the damages you might experience with chest binding.
7. After vomiting and sneezing
Just like coughing, sneezing and vomiting hard or for long bouts can cause bruised ribs. This will be characterized by pain in the rib cage when sneezing and also when vomiting. Both sneezing and puking cause high-pressure buildup in the chest area.
When this pressure is maintained repetitively, especially in people who are suffering from constant nausea, bruising can occur.
Other minor and less likely causes of rib bruising include sleeping on hard surfaces, breast augmentation and breast enlargement implants. Delayed pain from minor traumas above the diaphragm can also cause pain in the chest area.
What are the symptoms of bruised ribs? Pain, soreness and general discomfort in the chest are some of the pointers that you could be having an injury in your ribs.
Symptoms may mean a bruise, but it could also be something bigger and more serious such as a cracked or broken rib. Here are the major symptoms and signs of rib bruising and how to know if your ribs are bruised or broken.
Difficulty breathing or it hurts to breathe
One of the first symptoms of bruised ribs is pain when breathing. The reason is that breathing causes movement in the lung cavity.
These movements cause the injured muscles and ligaments to flex, leading to the pain. Other than pain when breathing, you might experience other symptoms such as pain and difficulty to clear mucus. The pain might get worse due to chest infections.
In most cases, rib fractures will occur with other injuries to the chest organs. If the pain lasts or keeps spreading, visit a doctor for X-ray scans and diagnosis to determine if you have a rib fracture or a broken rib.
Pain on ribs, chest lower back, left or right side
Pain in the ribs is a sign that you either have an infection or an injury. Bruised ribs with pain getting worse can mean that the injury is not minor or superficial. If you have a deep injury or a bigger and internal bruise, you might feel stomach pain, lower back pain and chest pains.
Other symptoms may be a sore liver, sternum and left or lower right side of the body. The area near the heart or breast can also show signs of injury. Since the healing time for bruises on ribs is a few days or weeks, you should see a doctor if the pain keeps spreading. A bruised rib lump or a popping sound is also a likely sign that you have cracked or broken rib.
Coughing up blood
A burning sensation, chest aches and discomfort under armpit or near the left or right breast may be symptoms of rib cage injuries. However, coughing up blood can be an indication of a more threatening contusion.
- Soft tissue injuries usually get injured with any kind of brute force. Intercostal and costal muscles are categorized as soft tissues.
- With contusions and bruises, the blood vessels break or break, leaking blood into other neighboring tissues. This may lead to blood in your cough.
According to All in Health, “Air or blood may also collect inside your chest after a rib fracture and cause increased trouble breathing. When this happens, you may need a drain put into your chest to remove the air or blood.”
Sore or swollen ribs
Swelling is the body’s normal reaction to an injury. It is an inflammatory response. Most swollen areas of the body are sore or painful to touch. Sore, swelling ribs can be caused by either the accumulation of fluid on the injured areas, or just inflammation.
Swelling can manifest internally or externally. If the bruise is very deep, you might swell internally. It is also possible to see a lump or bump on the rib cage especially on the area with the bruise.
Discolored skin (purple)
Bruises are typically purple, red or black. A fresh bruise is likely to be red. However, the color will keep changing as the rib bruises heal. These will resemble the different stages of a healing bruise. Color changes occur due to the different processes of breaking down the blood clot and the cleanup process. As the contusion heals, your skin will clear up and get rid of the discoloration.
Can rib bruises make you nauseous? Constant nausea is a likely sign of internal bleeding due to an injury.
According to MadeMan, symptoms of internal bleeding include nausea, blood in the stool and shortness of breath.
Cracked rib symptoms (no contusion)
Bruised back ribs or injuries to the rib cage can also come without visible bruises. Bruises normally occur, but they can be internal.
Minor fractures and cracks with no bruising are common, but you may experience other symptoms such as pain when breathing, sneezing, coughing and moving.
Internal organ injuries are risky and may come with their own complications. It is important that you don’t ignore any symptoms of contusions on the ribs. The spleen, kidneys, lungs and even the heart can easy be affected.
Healing Time and Recovery
How long does it take for a bruised rib to heal? Bruises usually heal on their own. While the remedies and treatments outlined below can help make bruises go away faster, the healing time is 3 to 4 weeks.
With treatment such as cold compresses and care tips such as reduced movements, bruised ribs recovery time may reduce significantly. Usually, if cold compresses are applied soon enough after the contusion, the bruise will heal faster. Warm compress treatment can make the recovery or healing time to reduce since they help dissolve the clot.
- Resting enough can help reduce the pain significantly and make the bruising heal.
- If the ribs take longer to heal, it is likely that you have a fracture or a crack. An X-ray may be necessary.
- Some doctors advise that if it takes longer than 6 weeks for your bruise to heal, take it to the doctor for evaluation.
Treatment for bruising on the ribs may only be necessary if you feel pain or discomfort. However, a bruise normally heals on its own.
Resting is recommended to help reduce trauma and disturbance to the broken blood vessels. It will also stop further bleeding and clotting. With some natural and home remedies, you can quicken the healing process.
a) Painkillers and other medications
Painkillers will help reduce pain. Your doctor will prescribe some pain relieving medications such as narcotic ones. Ibuprofen is one of the most common treatments given to help relieve pain.
You can take over-the-counter pain medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen etc. Make sure you follow the instructions on the bottle. Do not take aspirin if you are under the age of 19. Other anti-inflammatory drugs you can take include Voltaren and Vicodin.
If breathing, turning or moving around is painful, try to get as much rest as possible.
- If you play sports, avoid your routine completely until you heal.
- Avoid going back to work for at least 3 weeks if you have an injured rib.
- When resting, try to lie down in the most comfortable position as much as you can. You can lie on the side of your ribs that has the bruise, but only if it is comfortable.
c) Take deep breaths periodically
Other than resting, you should manage your breaths to avoid worsening the pain and the contusion. While breathing heavily can cause damage to the ligaments and muscle tissue in the rib-cage, it is advised that you take deep breaths at intervals. Breathing shallowly or restricting your breathing can cause pneumonia and other chest infections.
- Take deep breaths every few minutes.
- Prolong your inhalation and exhale slowly. These breathing exercises will help you heal faster.
- If breathing in and out is so painful, see a doctor immediately.
d) Cold compress
Cold compresses are the best when the injury is still fresh. How do they work? Cold therapy helps constrict blood vessels in the area. This will reduce bleeding by restricting the flow of blood to the injured site. It will also help the pain go away.
- Make a cold compress with ice packs or cubes from your freezer.
- Wrap the compress in a towel to prevent cold-burning your skin.
- Apply the compress to the rib that is bruised for about 15 minutes.
- Repeat this several times a day.
e) Warm compress
A warm compress should also come in handy after 24 to 36 hours of injury. It works by increasing the blood flow to the bruised skin. This helps ‘clean away’ the clot beneath.
- Get a heating pad or a microwaveable warm compress.
- Apply on the bruised area for about 5 minutes.
- Repeat this treatment twice or three times a day to heal it faster.
f) Epsom salt remedy
Prepare an Epsom salt bath twice or three times a week to accelerate the healing of your bruises. Epsom salt is absorbed through the skin. Using it in your bath means that it gets absorbed directly into the bruised area.
Epsom salt will help reduce the inflammation and the pain. You can also add a few drops of lavender oil to the bat. It will help relax your muscles and make the bruised ribs to heal faster. Other care tips include the following:
- If the pain and contusions are caused by underwire bras, try looking at the bra construction and the wire casing. Well cased and stitched bras are more comfortable and will not cause bruising on breast and thorax.
- Avoid binding your chest. This will increase your risk of getting pneumonia.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes. Smoking does will make the healing process slower.
- See a doctor as soon as possible if the symptoms are severe, or hint of a pneumothorax or collapsed lung problem.
First Aid Tips for Rib Injuries