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Pain Relief for Cracked Ribs

By Jason Brick ; Updated July 27, 2017

Cracked, broken and bruised ribs are painful injuries. Adding inconvenience to injury is the fact that they are tricky to treat. While you can put a broken arm in a splint or a cast, the torso is just too big for that sort of treatment. Most patients with a cracked rib are told to take it easy and wait for it to heal. Meanwhile, there are some tricks to help ease the pain.

Over the Counter Pain Medication

Many victims of a cracked rib get prescription pain relief. If you don't, or you prefer not to take them, simple over-the-counter pain medicine can still help a lot. Aspirin (Bayer), ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are the most common. Unless you suffer from an allergy, most are just about as effective as one another.

If you're in a lot of pain, one trick is to alternate doses of two different kinds of pain meds. You should wait four hours between doses of any one kind of pain medication, but you can for example take ibuprofen two hours after your aspirin, and then more ibuprofen two hours after that. You should still be careful to observe any warnings on the label about maximum dosage. Also, never do this if you're taking prescription meds as they can interact in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

Finally, there is some concern about using aspirin on children under the age of 20. Ask your pediatrician before doing so.

Compression and Immobilizing

Cracked ribs hurt so much and so often because we keep moving them. Every time you turn, bend or breathe, the ribs twist and bend. You can wrap your ribs with a compression bandage, or even a tight t-shirt to immobilize the cracked rib. This will help to minimize the twisting and bending and do a lot to make you more comfortable.

Another method for immobilization is simple good posture. Sitting up straight and rotating your entire torso as a unit will take a lot of stress off the rib cage. This will minimize that twisting and bending, and reduce your pain substantially.

When at rest, some people find it helps to hug a pillow or cushion to the damaged side of your body. This is another form of compression, and especially useful when you try to sleep.

Ice, Ice Baby

Ice will reduce swelling and help numb the damaged area. Especially during the first 48 hours, icing your ribs will help ease the pain and speed healing. The best ice pack is a bag of frozen peas: it's cold enough, and it will shift to mold around your torso.

When icing, keep a thin towel between the ice and your skin to prevent damage. Keep the ice on for 30 minutes at a time, resting an hour in between to encourage blood flow.

Take it Easy

Moving your body generally involves moving your ribs. Moving your ribs hurts and makes them take longer to heal. Avoid strenuous exercise and difficult postures, even things like reaching to high shelves, as much as you can. You need to keep your ribs in a condition to heal quickly.

Finally, resist the temptation to ramp up your level of exertion because you 'feel a little better.' There are few quicker ways to get re-injured than to start pushing hard before your body is ready for it.

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