Treatments and drugsBy Mayo Clinic staff
Most broken ribs heal on their own within six weeks.
It's important to obtain adequate pain relief because if it hurts too much to breathe deeply, you may develop pneumonia.
- Over-the-counter drugs. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) and naproxen (Aleve) — may help relieve discomfort as you wait for the fracture to heal.
- Other pain medications. If NSAIDs or acetaminophen don't work well enough, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medications.
- Nerve blocks. If the pain is severe, your doctor may suggest injections of long-lasting anesthesia around the nerves that supply the ribs.
In the past, doctors would use compression wraps — elastic bandages that you can wrap around your chest — to help splint and immobilize the area. Compression wraps aren't recommended for broken ribs anymore because they can keep you from taking deep breaths, which can increase the risk of pneumonia.
- Karlson KA. Rib fractures. http://www.uptodate.com/home/index.html. Accessed Feb. 7, 2011.
- Brunett PH, et al. Pulmonary trauma. In: Tintinalli JE, et al. Tintinalli's Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com/content.aspx?aID=6389704. Accessed Feb. 5, 2011.
- Fractures. The Merck Manuals: The Merck Manual for Healthcare Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec21/ch309/ch309b.html#sec21-ch309-ch309b-141. Accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
- Preventing falls and related fractures. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Osteoporosis/Fracture/prevent_falls.asp. Accessed Feb. 8, 2011.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 8, 2011.