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How To Identify Symptoms Of Broken Ribs After an Accident

It can be overwhelming to identify all of your immediate injuries after a car accident. It's relatively easy to find and treat external wounds, but internal damage can go unnoticed and might cause complications down the line. One common area of the body of people injured in car accidents is the ribs.

The ribs are a common injury in instances of high force or impact and can be quite painful. If you suspect that you may have injured your rib cage during a car accident, it's important to get confirmation and explore your medical and legal options accordingly.

We've compiled a list to help you identify signs and symptoms of broken ribs after a car accident, along with treatment options and steps to help get your body healed up and back in action as soon as possible.

Types of Rib Injuriessymptoms of broken ribs - health worker checking patients back for injury

After getting injured in an accident, it's important to determine what your injuries are and where they're located in your body. With damage to the ribs, there are two main types of injuries that people experience after a car accident:


A bruised rib occurs when an individual gets hurt in the rib area, but the injury doesn't cause enough damage to fracture or break a bone. Pain that feels like bruising in the ribs can be the result of strain or damage to the muscles, cartilage or soft tissue in the chest. While this type of injury is typically less serious than a fracture or break, it can still be painful and cause discomfort.


A rib can fracture or break when a person experiences impact or force to the rib cage. This can result in an extremely painful recovery process for the individual. Stress fractures can also occur in the rib area, although this is more common in athletes due to regular overuse.

Signs and Symptoms of Rib Injuries

When trying to determine whether you have a specific injury to your ribs or just body soreness, there are a few key indicators that can point to a rib-specific injury. Here are a few common signs and symptoms of injured ribs:

Tender Ribs

One of the most common signs of a bruised or broken rib is tenderness in the rib cage. You may feel tenderness when twisting your body, turning around or from bending downward. When you touch the area of the rib that's injured, you'll likely feel a sharp pain that radiates throughout your entire chest region. These symptoms are all indicators that you've injured your ribs. In this case, you may require medical attention to control your rib pain and make sure the ribs heal properly.

Painful Breathing

If you take a deep breath in and your rib area feels increasingly tender or sore, this is a sign of injury. Your ribs may also hurt from other actions, like coughing or laughing. However, if you have difficulty breathing, this can be a sign of a more serious complication and usually requires immediate medical attention. Difficulty breathing differs from painful breathing, which is a common symptom of broken ribs. To avoid internal complications with your lungs, do not hold your breath while suffering from a rib injury.

Chiropractor for Back Pain - hand on a back with illustrated pain pointBruising

Due to the impact of a crash, bruising can occur in areas all over the body. It's also one of the few external signs that you've injured your ribs after an accident. Swelling can accompany bruising, and may result in an enlarged and hot-to-the-touch sensation in the area. Typically, bruising occurs in the area where the rib is fractured or broken and can cause dark coloring and soreness on the skin.

Diagnosis of Rib Injury

To diagnose a rib injury, it's best to see a medical professional who can look at your injuries with professional tools and technology. The doctor will first give you an exam to look for obvious external signs of injury. They'll ask you how you got hurt and likely touch the area to confirm that it's sore. The doctor may also ask you to breathe while they listen to your lungs. If signs point to a fracture or a break, they may order an X-ray, MRI, CT, or bone scan to identify the damage and then move forward with treatment options.

Treatment Options

Treating injured ribs can be difficult, and the process differs from other broken bone treatments. Whereas casts or braces can immobilize things like broken legs or arms, this kind of treatment is impossible for rib injuries. There's no way to fully immobilize your chest, as it constantly moves up and down while you breathe. Instead, doctors have to take a minimalist approach to healing broken ribs. Your doctor may recommend the following to promote a more efficient healing process:


Ice is a cost-effective and classic way to treat both internal and external injuries. It's also a great way to reduce swelling after an injury, which reduces tenderness and skin inflammation. Ice also causes a numbing sensation when left in contact with the skin for several minutes, which can relieve pain from the injured rib.

Pain Medication

Pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are common ways to reduce feelings of tenderness and sharp pain following a car accident. Your doctor may start your treatment by prescribing a stronger painkiller while the pain is greater. Over time, they should encourage you to switch to lower dose over-the-counter options once you start to heal.


While it's impossible to fully immobilize the rib cage after an injury, you can take the extra steps to avoid physical activity and rest while your body heals. You'll want to avoid working out, playing sports, or doing any type of labor that leads to more injury. Time is the most common method for treating rib injuries, and most doctors recommend patients rest for approximately six weeks to ensure a full recovery.

Deep BreathCommon Injuries Treated by Personal Injury Doctors - older man massaging head as if in pain

While deep breaths can be painful with injured ribs, it's important to push through the discomfort to avoid potential complications in the lungs later on. Lung infections are very common after rib injuries, with patients injured in car accidents more likely to develop pneumonia than those injured from anything else. Your doctor may recommend that you regularly take deep breaths, hold the air in, and let it out, followed by a deep cough.

How to Treat Broken Ribs

It's normal to feel overwhelmed after a car accident, but you need to ensure that your body is healthy and free of injuries before moving on to legal matters. If you get in a car accident and suspect you've broken or bruised your ribs, consider following these five steps:

  • Assess Your Injuries

After an accident, the first step is to assess the damage to your body and ensure that you don't have any serious injuries that require immediate medical attention. Take a moment to feel around your body for soreness or look for external injuries, like cuts or scrapes. Once you identify any damage, you can tell your doctor exactly where it hurts and what you feel. This can save time and help your doctor assess the exact areas that are causing you pain and discomfort.

  • Visit a Medical Professional

The next step is to visit a medical professional who can accurately examine and diagnose your injuries. With the chest area, seek out professional care, as complications can pop up down the line, like pneumonia or other lung infections. Seeking medical attention can also determine if your injuries are limited to the bones or cartilage or if there is any damage to the surrounding tissue.

  • Car Accident Physician - car interior with driver's hand on steering wheelTake Time To Heal

Following the doctor's orders is the best way to promote the successful and efficient healing of your rib area. Use medications as prescribed by your physician to control pain while your ribs heal. It's also crucial that you take time to rest after a rib injury, typically for about a six week period. Stay away from contact sports and any physical activity that could hinder your healing process, as this can result in further injury to your ribs and extend your healing time significantly.

  • Know Your Legal Options

You may be entitled to financial compensation for your injuries after a car accident, and it's important to get information as soon as possible to get the legal process started. At CityWide Injury, we offer immediate and personalized attention to car accident victims in the Houston area and ensure they have the proper documentation to support their claims for legal or insurance purposes. We also have attorney partners and offer attorney referrals so you can have the best representation possible and get what you deserve.

Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident can be stressful, and can even take away time and attention your injuries require. It's important to acknowledge your pain and injuries after an accident and get them checked out by a team of medical professionals to ensure you get the proper treatment and can return to your regular life. At CityWide Injury, our goal is to help people in the Houston area get the proper medical care for their injuries and point them in the right direction for pursuing their legal options.

Contact us at CityWide Injury for more information on our services and to learn how we can help you overcome a car accident.


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How To Identify Symptoms Of Broken Ribs After an Accident | City Wide Injury & Accident – Houston, TX