Medical science can transplant organs but cannot figure out how to treat bruised ribs beyond administering NSAID pain medications. Time is the only guaranteed healer for bruised ribs. It can take up to six weeks for the pain to subside. There are some things a patient can do to make life with bruised ribs bearable.
Cold helps numb pain. Place an ice pack, chilled gel pack or even a bag of crushed ice at the sore area for 10 minutes. Take the ice pack off for 50 minutes. Repeat this as often as necessary throughout the day.
Some commercial ice packs are so thickly padded that it is safe to place directly onto the skin. These items can also be microwaved in order to create an instant heat pack. But it’s best to err on the side of caution. Wrap an ice pack in a towel before placing onto the skin. Never place a cold pack directly onto the skin to avoid causing cold burns. This can be very easy to do since after a couple of minutes the shock of severe cold may pass as the outer layer of the skin becomes numb.
While icing, breathe deeply, if possible. Breathing deeply or even normally can hurt. This can lead to hyperventilation and cause more pain in the chest as the body fights for enough oxygen, notes the book “Advanced Assessment and Treatment of Trauma” (Jones Bartlett Learning; 2009.) Extreme pain while breathing normally notes broken ribs and not bruised ribs.
When sleeping, try to sleep on the back instead of the side or the stomach. Using an elevated pillow, such as the types sold for heartburn or snoring prevention, can help make sleeping on the back more comfortable. These pillows can take a couple of nights to get used to.
What About Wrapping?
Some doctors may advise that a patient with bruised ribs should wrap their chests in an ACE bandage depending on how active the patient may be. A professional football player, for example, may be unable to completely rest for six weeks. Some amount of training has to be done.
But wrapping chests of patients with bruised ribs is considered an old-fashioned form of treatment and may not be advised for people who are not professional athletes or who work in very physical jobs. Some patients may stubbornly wrap themselves anyway if they feel less pain throughout the day. Patients diagnosed pneumonia risks cannot be wrapped, because wrapping the chest can prevent the lungs from fully expanding.