Your ribs are curved bones in your chest. They help protect your lungs and expand and contract when you breathe. Children's ribs bend easily and can often withstand a blow or fall. But adult ribs are more likely to break (fracture) under stress. Even coughing or a hard sneeze can fracture a rib.
Although they can be painful, most rib fractures aren't serious. But they often make it hard to cough or breathe deeply. Get medical care right away if you have:
Nausea, vomiting, or stomach pain with a sore or bruised rib.
Pain that worsens over time.
An injury to the chest or stomach.
Here is what will happen in the ER:
A healthcare provider will ask about your injury and examine you carefully.
An X-ray of your chest will likely be taken to show any major damage to ribs and lungs. However, ribs can undergo small breaks that do not show up on X-rays, even though they still hurt.
You may be given medicine to ease your discomfort.
Rarely, rib fractures can cause a lung to collapse or lead to bleeding in the chest. In these cases, a tube will be inserted into the chest to reinflate the lung or drain the blood.
You are likely to heal in 6 to 8 weeks. Most rib fractures heal on their own with no lasting effects. Call your healthcare provider right away if you notice any of these symptoms:
Increased chest pain
Shortness of breath
Coughing up blood