Bruised Ribs (Rib contusion): symptoms, therapy, duration

A contusion of the ribs, (bruised ribs) is a blunt, closed injury to the bony ribcage, for example as a result of a fall or blow. Often it is a sports injury. But also a fall on the stairs or in the bathroom often causes a contusion of the ribs. Pain is the main symptom of this injury. Read more about: What is a rib contusion or bruised ribs? What to do about the pain? How long does the healing process take?

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): Description

Physicians call bruised ribs, rib contusion a blunt, closed injury in the rib area. The ribs are not broken. The contusion may affect one or more ribs and may be of varying severity. A contusion of the ribs (bruised ribs) often occurs in the context of sports injuries.

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): Symptoms

Localized (circumscribed) pain is the main symptom of rib contusion (bruised ribs). Coughing or inhalation will increase the discomfort. There may even be painful shortness of breath.

A bruise mark can sometimes be seen on the skin at the injury site. If blood vessels have been injured in the trauma, a haematoma is formed.

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): causes and risk factors

A contusion of the ribs (bruised ribs) is caused by direct blunt force from outside on the bony rib substance. The ribs are usually only covered by a thin layer of skin and the periosteum is very sensitive to pain. A bump or kick, a hard impact or fall on the ribs can therefore easily lead to a contusion.

This happens particularly often in sports, especially contact sports such as football, handball or ice hockey as well as martial arts (such as judo, aikido, boxing, wrestling). But a fall while cycling, skiing or climbing stairs can also cause a bruise of the ribs. The same applies if a driver hits the steering wheel with his chest in an accident.

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): examinations and diagnosis

If a rib contusion (bruised ribs) is suspected, the doctor will first take a medical history of the patient (anamnesis). Possible questions here are:

  • How did the injury occur?
  • What complaints do you have?
  • Where exactly do you feel pain?

This is followed by the physical examination. The doctor carefully palpates the ribs. Both in the case of a contusion and a fracture of the ribs, the injured area is very painful under pressure. The physical examination alone does not always make it easy to distinguish between the two clinical pictures.

Therefore, if a rib contusion (bruised ribs) is suspected, the chest is always X-rayed as well. Bony injuries such as a fracture can generally be easily identified on the X-ray image.

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): treatment

As a first aid measure in case of a rib contusion (bruised ribs), the injured area should be cooled. For this you can put ice cubes wrapped in a cloth or a cold compress on the bruised ribs. This reduces pain and counteracts swelling of the tissue.

The attending physician prescribes suitable painkillers such as tramadol or ibuprofen. The latter has an additional anti-inflammatory effect.

Coughing is very painful when the ribs are bruised. If necessary, patients are therefore given a cough suppressant (antitussive) for the night to enable a restful sleep.

Mucolytic drugs facilitate the painful coughing up of fixed secretions in the respiratory tract in the event of a rib contusion.

Greater strain on the chest area should be avoided even in the case of a slight contusion of the ribs. For example, patients should not carry heavy loads and should behave in a back-friendly manner. This includes squatting with a straight back when you want to pick something up from the ground.

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): course of disease and prognosis

A contusion of the ribs (bruised ribs) is particularly painful when inhaling deeply and coughing. Many patients therefore breathe only shallowly and carefully (gentle breathing) and avoid coughing. This can lead to pneumonia, especially in older patients.

A blunt chest injury such as a contusion of the ribs (bruised ribs)can in severe cases also lead to a contusion of internal organs, such as a cardiac contusion (heart contusion) or a pulmonary contusion (lung contusion). Cardiac contusion manifests itself, for example, in cardiac arrhythmia; a severe lung contusion can cause dangerous breathing problems (often only after hours or days).

Bruised ribs (Rib contusion): Duration

A contusion of the ribs (bruised ribs) is very painful and needs time to heal. Depending on the degree of severity, this can take several weeks.

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