A broken rib is a common injury that occurs when one of the bones in the rib cage breaks or cracks. The most common causes are hard impacts from falls, car accidents or contact sports.

Many broken ribs are simply cracked. Cracked ribs are painful. But they don't cause the problems that ribs that have broken into pieces can. The sharp edge of a broken bone can harm major blood vessels or lungs and other organs.

Usually, broken ribs heal on their own in about six weeks. Pain control is important for being able to breathe deeply and avoid lung issues, such as pneumonia.


The following can cause pain with a broken rib or make pain worse:

  • A deep breath.
  • Pressure on the injured area.
  • A bend or a twist of the body.

When to see a doctor

See a health care provider if part of your rib area is tender after an accident or if you have trouble breathing or pain with deep breathing.

Seek medical help right away if you feel pressure, fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of your chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or pain that goes beyond your chest to your shoulder or arm. These symptoms can mean a heart attack.


Direct impact — such as from a car accident, a fall, child abuse or contact sports — is the most common cause of broken ribs. Ribs also can be broken by repeated impact from sports such as golf and rowing or from coughing hard and long.

Risk factors

The following can increase the risk of breaking a rib:

  • Osteoporosis. This disease in which bones lose their bulk increases the risk of breaking a bone.
  • Sports. Playing contact sports, such as hockey or football, increases the risk of injury to the chest.
  • Cancer in a rib. Cancer can weaken the bone, making it more likely to break.


A broken rib can harm blood vessels and internal organs. Having more than one broken rib increases the risk.

Complications depend on which ribs break. Possible complications include:

  • Tear in the main artery of the body, known as the aorta. A sharp end from a break in one of the first three ribs at the top of the rib cage could pierce a major blood vessel, including the aorta.
  • Tear in a lung. The jagged end of a broken middle rib can punch a hole in a lung and cause it to cave in.
  • Ripped spleen, liver or kidneys. The bottom two ribs rarely break because they can move more than the upper and middle ribs. But the ends of a broken lower rib can cause serious harm to the spleen, liver or a kidney.


To help keep a rib from breaking:

  • Protect from athletic injuries. Wear protective equipment when playing contact sports.
  • Reduce the risk of falls in the house. Remove clutter from floors. Wipe up spills right away. Use a rubber mat in the shower. Keep your home well lit. Put backing on carpets and area rugs to keep them from sliding.
  • Strengthen bones. Getting enough calcium and vitamin D in the diet is important for strong bones. Get about 1,200 milligrams of calcium and 600 international units of vitamin D daily from food and supplements.