Bruised or broken rib?

Is a rib bruised or broken? It is often unclear what the damage is to a rib. It is clear that pain is felt and breathing is sometimes difficult. Bending and lifting is also painful. A blow or bump to the ribs or a fall can bruise or break a rib. A bruise can hurt more than a broken bone, but what causes this and how do you recognize the difference between the two?

The ribs

The ribs form the chest and serve to protect the heart and lungs, among other things. They give strength and shape to the skeleton. Every person has 24 ribs, 12 on each side. Some people have a few ribs more or less, this is congenital. The ribs can move apart using the intercostal muscles. This makes inhalation possible. Pain in the ribs is often caused by the intercostal muscles, but sometimes also by a bruise or fracture of the ribs.

Bruised rib

A bruised rib occurs because the rib is compressed, for example when a blow hits the rib. The surrounding tissue, muscles, skin, etc. is pushed against the rib. The rib is damaged but not broken. A bruised rib occurs more often than a broken rib. The cause is often a fall on the rib, but continuous pressure against the rib can also cause it to bruise. Just think of coughing, which often compresses the ribs. During pregnancy it can also happen that the baby presses against the lower ribs, causing them to become bruised. The cause is often also due to sports.
The symptoms of a bruised rib include pain, which may worsen with breathing. A bruise may develop under the skin, causing the skin to turn purple to blue (a bruise). This bruise is located above the bruised rib but can spread. Lying down is painful, and sitting is often painful because of the collapsed position. The pain can be most severe early in the morning due to lying still. The doctor can recognize a bruised rib by scanning the rib, which is painful. No fracture is visible on an x-ray.
Treatment of a bruised rib consists of measured rest and pain relief. This pain relief is especially necessary because many people start to breathe superficially due to the pain. This increases the risk of pneumonia. This must certainly be prevented. Sometimes anti-inflammatories are prescribed. Only take this on the advice of the doctor. Medicines must always be handled with care. Cooling the painful area can reduce pain and swelling. Recovery often takes a little longer, because white blood cells decrease during cooling. Taking extra vitamin C can promote recovery. Take time to rest, but alternate this with exercise. Movement will make the muscles stiffen less quickly and the pain will decrease. Exercise also promotes recovery through better blood circulation. Total bed rest is not recommended; this will significantly slow down the recovery process. Don’t lift heavy things as long as it hurts. Listen to the signals your own body gives off. Often adapted work can be carried out, please discuss this with the employer. Only start exercising when it is no longer painful.

Broken rib

People often wonder how to distinguish a broken rib from a bruised rib. First of all, a broken rib will not reduce pain when cooled. A bruised rib will reduce pain with cooling. In addition, a bruised rib generally hurts more than a broken bone. This is because there is more damage with a bruise. A rib itself has no nerves and will therefore not produce pain. The rib is covered by a membrane that does contain nerves. When this membrane is damaged, pain may occur. But this membrane is not always damaged or only partially. There are people who walk around with a broken rib without even knowing it.
A doctor can recognize a broken rib by scanning the rib. He will often take another X-ray, which clearly shows that this is a bone fracture. Treatment is the same as for a bruise: measured rest and pain relief. Anti-inflammatories are also sometimes prescribed. A broken rib cannot be put in a plaster cast. Recovery can take months. This is due to the expansion of the ribs during breathing. There are corsets that keep the torso more stable, but a corset that is too tight actually hurts. A corset that is too tight also prevents deep breathing. Broken ribs cannot be put in plaster. Surgery is only necessary when there are multiple fractures that have caused fragmentation. This is more common in major traffic accidents. Surgery is also necessary when so-called flutter ribs occur. The ribs then move in opposite directions during breathing. This can make breathing very difficult. In all other cases, surgery is not necessary.
Sometimes a collapsed lung occurs in addition to a broken rib. This is always checked. Severe shortness of breath then occurs. If this is the case, the collapsed lung will be treated first. The doctor will then prescribe painkillers to make breathing easier.

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