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Crashed? Here's what to know about your bruised and broken ribs

Broken ribs are common in car crashes because of how the seat belt crosses the chest. It's possible to have bruised or broken ribs as a result of the impact.

The ribs have an important job in the body. They protect your chest cavity, lungs and heart. When too much force is placed on the ribs, they can become bruised, fractured or crack.

What are the symptoms of injured ribs?

Symptoms of bruised ribs may include:

  • Chest pain that worsens when you inhale
  • Pain when you cough, laugh or sneeze
  • Bruises on the skin
  • Twitching or spasms in the muscles of the chest

Cracked or broken ribs may have similar symptoms. You may also have heard a cracking sound when your ribs broke.

To diagnose your condition, you will need to go to the emergency room or hospital after your car crash. There, you'll first go through a physical exam. Your medical provider will use this chance to see if your lung function has been affected due to a puncture or pressure from the break.

Your medical provider may then order imaging tests, like X-rays or a computerized tomography scan (CT scan) to see if you have fractures or cracks on one or more of your ribs.

How long does it take to recover from broken or bruised ribs?

When you have bruised ribs, they will generally heal within a month. If the ribs are broken and not bruised, then healing can take longer. You will need to receive treatment, but it is hard to stabilize broken ribs. Broken ribs may be set, but they cannot be set in a cast.

The main treatment for broken ribs is to relieve your swelling and pain by minimizing your activity. Pain-relief medications, ice and other treatments may help the healing process along.

Do you have to seek medical care for broken or bruised ribs?

Any time you're in a crash, it's smart to seek medical care. Though you may think you only have a broken or bruised rib that can't be treated much, if at all, the reality is that a broken rib could puncture an organ or impact your ability to breathe in deeply. You should seek medical care to help prevent complications of the break or bruising, so that you have the best chance of recovering in the shortest amount of time. Your medical provider will help get you on a treatment plan.

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