Rest, relaxation, and regularly scheduled pain medicine are the best treatments for most broken ribs.
Rib fractures usually result from a blow to the chest or back (as in a car accident or a fall). A broken rib can even come from vigorously swinging a golf club or strenuous coughing.
Broken ribs can be extremely painful. Often, the pain from a rib fracture is worse when taking a deep breath. Severe broken ribs require evaluation and treatment at a hospital; usually these cause so much pain that a person naturally seeks medical attention.
The key to recovery from broken ribs is pain control. The pain from a rib fracture results in “respiratory splinting,” or voluntarily reducing the depth of breathing. Some experts believe this increases the risk for pneumonia or other lung problems. Pain medicines may allow deeper breathing, and help someone with a rib fracture get back to normal activities more quickly.
Pain medicines can include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen, but controlling the pain of broken ribs may require stronger opiate pain medicines like hydrocodone or oxycodone.
Most rib fractures heal completely within six weeks, but many patients can return to normal work and leisure activities much sooner than that.
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