Broken ribs

A broken rib, or fractured rib, is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in your rib cage breaks or cracks. The most common cause of broken ribs is trauma to the chest, such as from a fall, motor vehicle accident or impact during contact sports.

Many broken ribs are merely cracked. While still painful, cracked ribs aren't as potentially dangerous as ribs that have been broken into separate pieces. A jagged edge of broken bone can damage major blood vessels or internal organs, such as the lungs.

In most cases, broken ribs usually heal on their own in one or two months. Adequate pain control is important so that you can continue to breathe deeply and avoid lung complications, such as pneumonia.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

The pain associated with a broken rib usually occurs or worsens when you:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Press on the injured area
  • Bend or twist your body

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have a very tender spot in your rib area that occurs after trauma or if you have pain with deep breathing or difficulty breathing.

Seek medical attention immediately if you experience pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that extends beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms may indicate a heart attack.

© 1998-2015 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Terms of use