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How Do I Tell If I Have a Cracked or Bruised Rib?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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If you have suffered a rib injury, the type of pain and other, associated symptoms may indicate if they are cracked or bruised. Sharp pain, especially in the side; bruising in the same area as the pain; discomfort that grows worse when you move about; difficulty breathing; and a feeling of tightness in the chest can suggest a break or crack. You should see a medical professional if you think your ribs may be broken, especially if you have breathing problems.

The first thing to consider is whether or not you've suffered a blow or been in an accident that is likely to cause such a rib injury. For example, if you've recently been hit in the chest, suffered a fall, or been in a car accident, it's more likely that you could have suffered a cracked or bruised rib. Likewise, if you've had an illness that causes you to cough violently, this can also cause rib damage. If, on the other hand, you have not suffered such issues, you may best consider other sources as more likely causes of your symptoms.

The location of the pain you feel may prove a strong indication of whether you have a cracked or bruised rib or some other issue. If the pain you have is in your side, is moderate to severe, and worsens when you move around or bend over, this can strongly suggest a problem with a rib. You may also notice that the pain in your ribs gets worse when you breathe deeply, laugh, cough, or sneeze. Your discomfort might, however, remain constant to some extent, no matter what you are doing.

You might also notice that the skin in the area in which you feel the pain seems bruised. Such an outward sign is more likely to develop, however, if you have suffered injury to the ribs as the result of a fall, blow, or other type of accident. If the rib injury resulted from coughing, external bruising may be less likely.

It is important to note that a cracked or bruised rib often isn't a minor problem that can safely be ignored. Sometimes, an broken rib can damage lung tissue. As such, it is wise to see a healthcare professional for treatment for any possible rib damage. Additionally, if you have symptoms like chest tightness and problems breathing, seek immediate emergency care.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By umbra21 — On Nov 01, 2013

@bythewell - I've heard that's one of the reasons that people who work in rest homes tend to be wary about performing CPR on their patients. It can seriously injure them when they are already extremely fragile.

I know it sounds like rib pain is better than death, but if the staff doesn't have extensive medical training they could end up basically killing the resident in trouble anyway. It's a no-win situation.

By bythewell — On Oct 31, 2013

One of the things that people don't realize is that, in order to perform CPR effectively, you basically have to crack the ribs of the person who needs it. You have to press down hard on the ribs in order to get the heart pumping, because it's underneath them. Anyone who has had proper CPR will end up with broken or bruised ribs.

This is why television can be a bad thing in some cases, because it never shows the reality of this kind of treatment. I know people who think they could perform CPR because they've seen it done on TV and they probably wouldn't have the first clue how to start.

By Fa5t3r — On Oct 30, 2013

There might not be much a doctor can do for bruised or cracked ribs, aside from giving you some pain medication and strapping it up. It just has to heal by itself.

But it is extremely important to get it checked out, because the lungs are so vulnerable when the ribs are damaged. It's entirely possible to puncture a lung with a bit of broken rib and you absolutely don't want to do that.

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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