OW! My ribs!
December 1, 2009 1:44 PM   Subscribe

How long does a rib injury take to heal?

A couple of days before Thanksgiving, I fell. Hard. I landed with my full weight on the legs of a wood coat rack with the right side of my ribcage. OW!

I have no problems breathing...no painful catches as I breathe in as deeply as I can. No pain when I move my arms around (though, the first time I tried checking my mobility there were a few distinct "pops". None since.)

Right now, roughly a week later, I am very sore, very tender and very stiff along my left ribcage. Coughing is painful. Sneezing is very painful. Sleeping is uncomfortable at times. Otherwise, I am mobile, can lift, bend, etc. with little issue. Everyone I've spoken with (not doctors, of course) have been pretty universal with the comment "If you aren't obviously in danger, there really isn't anything they can do for you even if you've cracked or broken a rib." I don't know how true this is, but it seems to be a fairly universal response.

So, to those of you who may have sustained a rib injury, just how long does the pain, tenderness and stiffness last? When can I no longer fear a sneeze?

As for why I haven't been to the doctor yet...well...if it's true that there's really nothing they can do, I'd really rather avoid paying out-of-pocket for the imaging my doctor would invariably order. Crappy insurance, y'know.
posted by Thorzdad to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You may have injured a muscle that you use when you cough or sneeze but which you don't really use when you, for example, lift, bend, etc. Sneezing and coughing are very violent events (especially sneezing) whereas lifting and bending are more deliberate, slower events.
posted by dfriedman at 1:51 PM on December 1, 2009

I cracked a couple of ribs once, not enough to be really "broken" but enough to show up on an x-ray as a hairline. Three months of feeling bruised and tender, basically.

And a couple of years of unfounded paranoia about re-hurting them after that.
posted by rokusan at 1:52 PM on December 1, 2009

When I cracked a rib playing frisbee, the doctor told me 6-8 weeks. Be aware that it may not be "good as new" afterwards... I've cracked the same rib in the same place three times since then.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:53 PM on December 1, 2009

I broke two ribs a few months ago while playing on some schoolyard equipment (Yes, I know I'm fifty-five and should know better) and it took four weeks before the pain (more of an annoyance really) to subside and another two weeks before I forgot about it. Make sure you cough regularly and don't take shallow breaths (risk of pneumonia). Hope you're feeling better soon!
posted by HarrysDad at 1:54 PM on December 1, 2009

My dad cracked a couple of ribs more than a month ago and still has pain. He can go jogging but side to side and turning movement is painful as well as coughing etc.
posted by ghharr at 1:55 PM on December 1, 2009

Response by poster: I hear you about sneezing being a violent event. I've been dreading a sneeze ever since I fell. Had my first one today.
I saw Hubble-quality stars.

Three months, rokusan? Yikes. Maybe it would be worth the trip to my doc just to snag a pain med script? Though, we have some vicodin in the medicine cabinet and it's pretty worthless.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:56 PM on December 1, 2009

I had a similar issue earlier this year, altho I think it was actually caused by a day or two of wracking coughs that left me with stabbing rib pain, especially during deep breaths or trying to lay down. I found that some stern Ibuprofen or similar anti-inflammatory did astounding wonders for reducing the stabbing ache around the side of the ribs, along with the use of an ice pack for a day or two. The pain itself was pretty much gone after three days. I'm not sure if that'll help, as mine wasn't caused by sudden trauma, but it's worth a shot.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:08 PM on December 1, 2009

Oddly enough, I have been following a similar injury trajectory for the past 3.5 weeks. I was thrown from a horse and had mostly crippling pain in my hip for the first few days, but then the hip pain cleared up but the rib pain got steadily worse. At the one-week point, I started getting muscle spasms (which are apparently not uncommon with a rib injury) that were quite unpleasant. Fortunately, the worst of the spasms cleared up with heat therapy, and for the past few weeks it's been mostly "annoying" level pain, plus the really-really hurts when I sneeze thing. I've got mostly full mobility, but certain twisting/bending movements are uncomfortable, esp. if done too quickly.

I've broken a rib once before, and in that situation it was about 6 weeks until it felt mostly normal.
posted by drlith at 2:15 PM on December 1, 2009

My boyfriend bruised his ribs playing soccer a few years ago. Twice actually, the second time was bad enough to go get xrays (nothing wrong with the bones, just bruising). Each time it took 3-4 weeks for the pain to subside to a dull, occasional ache and several months to be gone entirely. The intercostal muscles get used all day every day so healing takes longer plus it's not like you can rest them to stop it hurting. So yeah, you've probably got nothing to worry about on the extended pain front (as in, it's probably normal) but also probably got a little ways to go before you're comfortable again.
posted by shelleycat at 2:28 PM on December 1, 2009

My experience was that a couple cracked ribs took about 6 weeks to feel better. For that period I was unable to sleep on that side and avoided humor. Sneezes were very unpleasant. I didn't get any prescription pain meds, just managed it with over the counter remedies.

There were some uncomfortable rubbing sensations in there as they healed, mostly when I inhaled deeply.
posted by itstheclamsname at 2:31 PM on December 1, 2009

Rib injuries can be very strange in terms of healing. My hubby broke a rib years ago (a substantial crack that was never looked at by a doctor) which he estimates took 3-4 weeks to stop hurting. However, that same injury has repeatedly flared back up and will produce pain and swelling for weeks, years later.

I've never broken a rib, but did significantly bruise my back over the ribs once. That took about 3 weeks to stop hurting when I sneezed, and 3-4 months to stop hurting when I slept.

Honestly, I would say to go to a doctor, and try to impress on them that it hurts. If nothing else, you can get some pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs to help with the symptoms.
posted by strixus at 2:31 PM on December 1, 2009

Two months for two broken ribs to feel good enough to take hits again. Bruised / pulled muscles heal quicker, but are prone to re-injury in that "feels ok now, time to help move furniture" phase.

"If you aren't obviously in danger, there really isn't anything they can do for you even if you've cracked or broken a rib."

Truth. there's no danger of them healing 'wrong' or the bones moving out of place like a leg or arm. No way to wear a cast, and the old-school tight wrapping helps the pain but can cause pneumonia as you don't breath deeply enough.
posted by anti social order at 2:38 PM on December 1, 2009

I've broken a few ribs before in a series of dumb-ass stunts. It takes a couple months. Be patient and try not to strain yourself. Go see a Doc if you feel you need to, but as others and yourself have indicated, they'll tell you basically everything everyone else has said.
posted by elendil71 at 2:52 PM on December 1, 2009

I've had this happen twice, most recently this spring. The doctor took x-rays and then said there was nothing to do but wait. From what I remember after about 2 weeks I could turn in my sleep, and after about a month sneezing was no longer scary painful.
posted by Killick at 4:38 PM on December 1, 2009

While rock climbing at the beach a couple of years ago, I slipped on a slimy one and crashed into a big one with my left-side ribs taking the biggest hit. Boy oh boy, did that hurt! No ribis were broken and it took about 6 weeks for the pain to finally go away. Yes, sneezing was unspeakably painful during the healing.
posted by Lynsey at 8:45 PM on December 1, 2009

Broken ribs- 4-6 weeks. Torn or inflamed cartilage- longer. If you actually break a rib you usually know right away whereas torn cartilage takes a day or a week to really settle into hurting. Of course, you can do both.

I hit it with 600mg (one prescription strength or 3 regular) ibuprofen every 6 hours for 24 to 48 hours and that gets rid of most of the pain if it's inflamation. That stuff kills your stomach though so eat before taking it and don't do it for too long. It won't hurt much if it's a broken rib though.
posted by fshgrl at 9:21 PM on December 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, I finally caved and went to my doc (who is, btw, the coolest doc evar) After a good chat, he sent me on my way with scripts for two different painkillers. He didn't see any reason to do xrays since, as everyone her has said, there really isn't anything they could do anyway.

Thanks to all for sharing their experiences, sugestions and condolences. It's gone a long way in assuring me that the pain, discomfort, and crunchy movements I'm experiencing is par for the course. I've gotten very good at staving-off the sneezes, too. I had a huge one on Thursday and I'm pretty sure it moved stuff around in there. It was a painful thing, anyway.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:47 PM on December 5, 2009

Response by poster: So, it's mid-January and I figured I would throw-in an update.
I am healed, and have been healed for about a full month or so. By "healed" I mean I have no discomfort or pain when I move, cough, sneeze or lie on my side. There is still a bit of residual stiffness along my left ribcage. Sometimes it feels like there's something in there, and I'm assuming it's scar tissue or something like that. In any case, it isn't hindering me in any way.

So, yay, I'm better. I sure don't want to go through that again, boy.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:55 PM on January 17, 2010

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