What is a rib contusion?
The meaning of contusion is “bruise” which is actually a local collection of blood under skin due to rupture of blood vessels present there.
Usually, a rib contusion or bruised rib occurs when there is an injury to the rib causing it to break or dislocate. Most of the time a rib contusion is a result of serious trauma to ribs which causes them to break and rupture the blood vessels around them.
There are 12 pairs of ribs on each side of the body; the total number of ribs is 24; the ribs 1-9 are attached to the sternum (aka breast bone). The 11th and 12th pair has free floating ribs i.e. they are not attached to the sternum.
What may cause a rib contusion?
Trauma, most commonly by a direct blow to the ribs causes contusion. Sports injuries e.g. Foot ball and rugby etc. a motor vehicle accident or free fall may also cause rib contusions.
What are the symptoms of a bruised rib?
- Pain (breathing, coughing, sneezing etc)
- Feeling of getting winded
- Bruise at the site of impact may appear
- The ribs may be sore or tender
- Rib cage muscle spasms
A rib contusion is not always and necessarily because of a broken rib. There may be other reasons too. It is always good to make sure whether you have a broken rib or not by visiting your doctor.
If the rib is not broken, it may be relatively easy to treat it. If however the rib is fractured, serious care must be taken since the fractured part may dislocate and injure other organs (e.g. it may puncture a lung).
A bruised rib with a fracture normally takes 6 weeks to resolve. If the rib is torn away from the cartilage the least time for it to resolve is 12 weeks. Most of the treatments target or kill pain and let the injury heal by itself.
If the rib is not broken, following steps may help:
- Rest is important for a speedy recovery and relief from discomfort.
- Icing the injured area should be done. The ice should be wrapped in a towel and patted over the injured area. Use the ice for the first 72 hours and stay away from heat pad. Icing will alleviate pain and cause the bruising to go away aiding in rapid healing.
- Management of breathing patterns is helping. Take a deep breath few times a minute and inhale for a prolonged time. Release your breath slowly then. If the damage to ribs is severe, it’s better to take one deep breath per hour.
- Do breathing exercises: inhale for 3 seconds, hold your breath for 3 seconds and exhale for 3 seconds. Repeat once or twice a day.
- Quit smoking at least till your rib heals. Lung irritants may cause infection and impair healing.
- Take pain killers
What not to do?
Don’t get a compression bandage. This old technique will only hinder your breathing and welcome complications.