This information leaflet gives advice to patients with any of the following:

  • Fractured (broken) ribs
  • Fractured sternum (breast bone)
  • Chest wall bruising

Injuries of the chest wall can be very painful and often take several weeks to get better. As a rough guide, one broken/bruised rib may be painful for several weeks. It may be even longer if more than one rib is involved. Coughing and deep breathing can be painful (due to movement of the broken/bruised area), but are an important aid to your recovery.

There is no specific treatment for broken ribs (it is often not necessary to X-ray the chest as the treatment is the same for bruised or broken ribs) and this is that the injury should be allowed to heal naturally, to take painkillers and to follow the guidelines on this page.


The main risk of a chest wall injury is a build up of phlegm (normal chest secretions) in the lungs because it is painful to cough and coughing normally removes excess phlegm. This can lead to a chest infection. The risk is greater in smokers and people with chest disease.

To prevent infection, you must:

  • Do regular deep breathing exercises (for example, 5 very deep breaths every hour, holding each for 3 seconds)
  • Cough, if you need to. It is vital that you do cough to remove phlegm, despite the pain. It will be more comfortable to cough if you support the painful area with a pillow or, after a few days, with your hand. Maintain your fluid intake which may aid sputum clearance
  • Keep mobile (eg, walking around) as this will help to improve your breathing
  • Take regular painkilling tablets either as prescribed or as bought over the counter (eg, paracetamol and ibubrofen). This will make it easier to cough and breathe deeply. You may be prescribed an opioid such as codeine or tramadol to take as well
  • You may find it helpful to sleep sitting upright for the first few nights
  • Keep your shoulders moving with light activities, avoiding heavy lifting

See your General Practitioner if:

  • You become short of breath
  • You start to cough up green, yellow or blood-stained sputum (phlegm)
  • You become unwell with a temperature
  • Your pain is not adequately controlled (or seek advice from a pharmacist)

This page gives guidelines only. If you have any queries, or your symptoms worsen, please contact your own doctor or Emergency Department 01935 384 355

If you need this leaflet in another format, please telephone:
01935 384256

Ref: 07-17-113
Review: 03/19