A couple months ago I fractured 3 ribs while snowboarding in Tahoe. I’m not a breaky-bone type of person and not a beginner snowboarder, so this was new and exciting. It was my third run of the day and second run through the terrain park. I was hitting a jump and for whatever reason totally bailed in mid-air and came down with my board sideways to the mountain. Having your board sideways to the mountain is normally okay, except when you are travelling 15-20 mph and falling from an 8 ft height, then it is less okay.

I landed and the momentum carried all my weight forward, smashing my torso into the landing pack. I remember two or three hard bounces and then coming to a stop unable to catch my breath at all. I couldn’t inhale normally and was gasping for air like a goldfish on a snowy mountain. It was pretty cool but unfortunately wasn’t caught on tape, what a waste. I knew something was wrong, I was just hoping it wasn’t too bad like a punctured lung or something, because then I would have to cut down on my smokes. (I dont actually smoke)

Ski patrol slid me down the mountain on a stretcher, about an hour later in the clinic I still couldn’t catch my breath, an ambulance came to take me to the hospital and my blood pressure crashed on the way there and they had to stick an IV in each arm. There was some blood in my urine so they did a CT scan to check for any injured organs leaking out precious life force.

Luckily everything was fine except for the 3 jaggedy ribs, it could have been much worse. And I got a cool CD with pictures of my insides! Truly this is some witchcraft.

Now that I’m pretty much healed up and have gone through the whole process, I have advice to give fellow rib breakers who may follow in my rib steps.

DO:

  • Cough – It will definitely hurt, and don’t do it too often, but maybe 2-5 times a day, cough lightly. This will help keep your lungs clear of fluid and mucus. If you don’t cough, you’ll be susceptible to pneumonia, and you don’t want that.
  • Light shoulder exercises – the side of your body with broken ribs is going to be weak, rolling your shoulders and doing arm circles will help.
  • Breath deeply – my dad is all about these Chinese breathing exercises, and this one he told me to do seemed to help. Inhale, hold and exhale in a 1:4:3 ratio. That is, for every 1 second of inhaling, hold it in for 4 times that number, and exhale for 3 times that. Start with what you can do and work your way up. I started at 2, 8, 6 until I was back to normal. This will also help keep your lungs clear in conjunction with coughing. Do this as many times a day as you can.
  • Have friends bring food – your friends and family will take pity on you and offer to bring food to your house in order to keep you alive. You should graciously accept. Having food delivered to your lap is a wonderful thing.
  • Drink milk – the calcium will be good for your calcifying riblets.
  • Take the recovery slowly – I did almost nothing exerting for the first 5 weeks and took weeks 6-9 very cautiously. I think the later weeks in the recovery period are the most dangerous because mentally you think you are ready for the big kick boxing match when actually your ribs are still gluing themselves together.

DO NOT:

  • Laugh or sneeze – Laughter is the best medicine, except when it jiggles your dangling rib bones. Stay away from your funny friends and funny movies for the first few weeks. I learned this the hard way. Sneezing will also be horrible for you. When you feel a sneeze coming on, tilt your head down and try to suppress it. If you must sneeze or cough, hold a pillow on your stomach and use it as a splint.
  • Use a rib belt – your doctor may give you a rib belt and it may seem helpful at first, kind of holding everything in place, but really all it’s doing is constricting your already labored breathing. I stopped using mine after the first night.
  • Go driving – depending on how many of your ribs have become useless, you should avoid driving. I tried to drive a couple times and it wasn’t very safe, as I couldn’t turn my body to check blind spots or merge onto the highway. Get your nice, sympathetic friends to take you places.
  • Sneeze in bed – I learned this the hard way and this isn’t on WebMD or someplace. Sneezing while laying horizontally still brought shooting pains in week 6, long after the normal pains diminished.
  • Go insane – the world needs you.

Good luck! Hopefully this will help some of you looking for treatment. I’m not a doctor but I play one on the Internet.

42 Responses to “Broken ribs – dos and don’ts”

  1. Rachelon 29 Sep 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I know this was a long time ago and you’ve probably abandoned this blog, but I wanted to thank you for this post – I broke my ribs a few days ago in a quadbiking accident and this is the best advice I’ve found on the internets. Thank you.

    PS: I sneezed this morning and actually howled in pain – it really is the worst thing in the world.

  2. Kevinon 24 Dec 2009 at 11:43 pm

    Fractured 6 ribs, 2 weeks ago on the ski hill. Hit a tree at full speed sideways in the air. Everything you said is so true.

    Sneezing is the devil.

  3. Heatheron 14 Apr 2010 at 7:17 am

    What they said! I thought I was just being a wuss about driving until I read your blog. Thankyou for making me feel better! And yes, Sneezing is a killer… hiccups aren’t very good either!

  4. RAYMONDon 30 Jun 2010 at 2:36 pm

    just want to thank u for sharing ur experiences …it made alot of difference to me…had car crash to a tree on way to work…had 8 fractured rib(5left,3right) with bilateral lung contusion with moderate internal bleeding..on oxygen support for 2days..fortunately conservative management was sufficient to reverse the deteriorating condition(thank God cos in Africa where i am nothing much could have been done)…all what u said is true to the letter…i don,t pick calls from funny freinds ..but the chest strap has been on for 3weeks now

  5. Carolon 03 Mar 2011 at 10:43 am

    thanks, I broke 3 ribs in a car accident and a on week 4, I had no idea the kind of pain, I am glad read your do’s & don’ts, it really helps me

  6. nikki fuzellon 17 Sep 2011 at 10:28 pm

    Thank you so much for your shared experiences. I am so scared because this experience hurts so much.
    I

  7. nikki fuzellon 17 Sep 2011 at 11:17 pm

    Your experience is so valuable to individuals that are first-time injury survivors. I am sure to take all of these notes and apply them to my successful recovery.

  8. essieon 29 Sep 2011 at 7:34 pm

    My husband says wiping your butt hurts too….. Sorry if your laughing…… We actually got some rope and tied it to the foot of the bed so he could actually pull himself out of bed…… we call it rock climbing in bed…. once again sorry if your laughing again….. Healthy healing to all!!

  9. JPSon 04 Jan 2012 at 9:21 am

    essie… thanks for the excruciating pain… laughing as I was reading how to handle my newly broken rib!

  10. AARP Rideron 24 Jan 2012 at 1:39 am

    Good to know that healing will take while. I smashed both sides of my ribs snowboarding at Mt. Baker MLK weekend. I haven’t been able to sleep lying down, and coughing, sneezing and driving hurt like hell. Don’t get me started with hiccups, which is like a form of torture. I was getting impatient because the pain was still present after a week. I guess it’ll be a few more weeks of sharp pain and discomfort before I get some relief.

  11. DOUGIEon 23 Mar 2012 at 6:34 am

    Fell down some stairs in a restaurant on 10/3 & broke 4 ribs. Pain initially beggared belief making it impossible to lie down & get any sort of decent sleep. I’m finding it helluva frustrating not being able to get about & do all the normal day to day activities that we all take for granted. However, the message that is coming out loud & clear is that it’s vital to take things easy & not to think that an easing in pain means you’ve recovered 100%. Just take it on the chin that it’ll take 6-8 weeks to get back to some sort of normality. I’m only 2 weeks into things so I just need to calm down like the others have all said !!!!

  12. Rachelon 09 Apr 2012 at 8:24 am

    I have been looking for advice and yes, I’ve been doing the do’s and don’ts pretty much that you have talked about, and that has been without much advice from the professionals! I confess I am nearly ready to kick the shit out of something (excuse my language) because I have gone through so much and this adds to the icing on the cake (lots of icing) and I am less than two weeks in from fracturing my rib/ribs…

    I appreciate that I am am not on my own and value all the above comments.

    Ps. different Rachel from the one above…

    x

  13. Michael Bon 26 Apr 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Fell on concrete steps a week ago after trying to ski down the hand railing while drunk in indianapolis. Thought my ankle was broken and my ribs were sore. A week later the ankle almost better but the back left lower ribs are worse. Sneezed yesterday and almost passed out. 4 Advil and 6 IPAD beers got me off to sleep sort of. Think the sneeze excaborated the damage. God help me never sneeze again until Summer.

  14. LauraLMon 18 Sep 2012 at 7:04 am

    This is brilliant. really helpful. I had a completely stupid accident and fell off a normal bicycle going downhill. I fractured my cheekbone and two ribs. I thought i would be able to go back to work within 2 weeks-but no chance. It is so painful and sore i cant believe it!!!Im a very impatient patient, but reading all these really helps me realise i have to bite the bullet and just rest!!!!GRRRRRRRRR-initially came on here to see what the advice was for driving with broken ribs……………….guess im not doing that for a while!!!

  15. AJ Aon 13 Nov 2012 at 8:00 pm

    Week 3 of 3 broken ribs due to a Go-karting accident. Pain is minimal now. Tried driving and felt ok. What do you guys say?

  16. Jim Rocciaon 27 Nov 2012 at 3:22 am

    Thanks for the tips 8 fractured on left side 1 on right dislocated elbow with a cold Sneezing is driving back to the er It’s nice to hear the other horror stories and how we are all coping The sneezing advice hopefully will work But again Just hearing everyone with these terrible injurys let’s me no I’m not alone Get Well To All

  17. Tinnituson 05 Nov 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Wow! Finally I got a website from where I be capable of actually get
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  18. valerieon 02 May 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Thanks so much for the info. I got bucked off my horse and fractured 5 ribs. Kind of expected to take a couple of days off, then go back to work. Guess not.

  19. Mikeon 05 May 2014 at 6:38 pm

    You have all cheered me up enough to comment and I never post on anything. My ribs broke doing a hand stand in yoga and then falling backwards on my own hard plastic water bottle. Sneezing takes me all the way back to the fall itself. I am afraid I dropped an F-Bomb in a room full of women the day it happened. Six weeks seems like a popular number for recovery…which means three more to go.

    So many sexy ways to break ribs. Then me.

    Any more advice on prepping for the sneeze?

  20. Louiseon 14 Jul 2014 at 4:33 am

    Just looked on here for advice as getting v.depressed and actually scared that it will never get better. Am 60…! Broke four ribs.just over a fortnight ago.Was thrown from somebody else’s 17hh Dutch Warmblood loco horse when schooling. It reared, then bronc-ed…can’t ride my own two.. Breathing exercises are v. painful but have to be done! If you are coughing up, try to lean forward and attempt mini coughs until you gather enough momentum for a decent cough…aaarghh!. this site has been v. heartening..so many stories and so much good humour, so many ways to break ribs but not so many to heal. Don’t drive, or even be driven if the roads are uneven or bumpy..it’s the unexpected movements that you have to do that you must watch out for…like sudden need to turn wheel or slam on/declutch Take laxatives..you may have to as strong painkillers will compromise your digestive process.

    Above all,don’t ride horses, but then you already knew that!

    What an idiot I am… I have already broken ribs on the other side

  21. Joyceon 09 Aug 2014 at 1:53 am

    Broke ribs after hitting pothole and braking too hard (my own stupid fault) went over handlebars and felt impact on my chest. Agree sneezing is so painful and pain takes some time to subside. I try to either wrap a towel quite tightly round my chest but usually don’t manage that in time or I squeeze my nose tightly just below level of eyes. Am 66 years old and need to be active and can’t be! I usually ride my bike approx 4 times a week.

  22. trishaon 26 Aug 2014 at 2:39 pm

    I fell and broke a rib in my back on a short brick wall. It hurts to breathe. But it’s excruciating to get up or down. And for God’s sake don’t sneeze! I can feel it move and that’s creepy. Lol It’s cool to lol online but don’t try it out loud for real!

  23. Tonyon 05 Oct 2014 at 9:38 am

    I broke 6 ribs a year ago and am still dealing with the pain. Spent 19 days in the hospital with a collapsed lung. My ribs have healed but my nerves and muscle are still giving me a bad time. Anyone have anything that helps with this?

  24. Karenon 08 Oct 2014 at 11:18 am

    Ten days ago I had a mishap on a horse. As I was standing on 2 railroad ties putting my left foot into stirrup and swinging my right leg over , yes the saddle slipped . I could not pull foot out of stirrup , It was like in slow motion. I remembered thinking shit , this is not going to be good. For some reason didn’t try to break my fall with my arms. Not sure why but I didn’t . I fell onto the railroad ties left side. It hurt like hell, was short of breath. I didn’t hit my head or break my arms. Thank god for that. Feeling dumb lying on ground, knowing I needed an ambulance to get me up, was taken to hospital . They did an x ray 3 broken ribs. All I can say is it could have been worse. I took the naproxen the first 4 days, I felt bloated and my face was feeling swollen to me. So I stopped the drug. Was afraid of pain medicine, thought I might over do it , by not feeling the pain. I am still in pain. I think the worst us trying to get comfortable at bedtime. I have been sleeping sitting up and putting pillows all around me. Then getting up is also hard and hurts. My butt hurts from sitting. I constantly switch pillows and chairs. I am hoping to drive today, do some banking and fix lunch for my 88 year old folks. Wish me luck……little by little it is getting better. Ps I did have to sneeze 3 times, I have been to the moon and back…..

  25. Dougon 28 Oct 2014 at 5:19 am

    Good advice. I have two broken ribs and

  26. Dougon 28 Oct 2014 at 5:22 am

    Two broken ribs. Can’t believe the pain. Done two on my back, yet my chest hurts aswell?! I laughed last night and was nearly in tears. Hate lying around. Roll on feeling better.

  27. sheilaon 05 Jan 2015 at 4:10 am

    thank goodness for your do’s and don’ts broke couple ribs christmas eve whilst in the forest with my two dogs, no it wasn’t their fault, also broke bones at base of thumb, now i’m in full plaster that wrist is comfortable but ribs, heck no, was going to drive out somewhere to give dogs a run, got an automatic so thought put it into drive and away i go, but after reading your blog decided against that, so dogs are suffering with me. I am 67 and slightly osteoporosis thats not helping. ah well will just have to be patient

  28. Schmoejoeon 27 Jan 2015 at 12:34 pm

    This is one of the best, informative, understandable and happy descriptions I have seen. Love the fact that it is candid like your talking to your friends. THANKS

  29. Shannonon 03 Mar 2015 at 9:27 am

    You may not even look at this blog you’ve written, as it was seven years ago, but I just have to say thanks.

    I broke one rib a week and a few days ago. I did it by coughing ever so slightly. I had already pulled the intercostal(sp) muscles along my ribs from coughing during an upper respiratory infection.

    When I broke the rib I knew it immediately. I am so thrilled to see your blog because it just confirmed that I am trying to do too much too soon.

  30. noeleenon 02 Apr 2015 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for the comments. Not sure if my rib is broke or bruised but the pain has got worse in the last 3 day since it happened. Is this right

  31. noeleenon 02 Apr 2015 at 9:57 am

    My rib clicks also when i cough

  32. Groovegalon 15 Apr 2015 at 9:08 pm

    Comments and sharing were all very enlightening and helpful. Even though there were different situations discussed, a certain common narrative was very supportive in a situation where one finds themselves clueless about what it should feel like and how you are realistically limited. What happened was that I fell in a pothole this weekend at a Madison Ave intersection, twisted a foot and banged up a knee, but it wasn’t until hours later that I even suspected ribs may have been damaged. Actually, 3 were broken. Breathing deep through the pain was not an option. No stranger to broken limbs and internally deep pain (9 on a scale of 10) due to previous spinal surgery, I felt helpless in no longer being able to use my reliable regimens (move it or you won’t heal; breathe deeply when it hurts) No, broken ribs are in a class of their own. I suspect the healing will take longer than a casted tibia or wrist and will depend a lot on being steady so the ribs don’t move as well as on intelligent pain management. Driving in the near future doesn’t seem to be an option, too. Spending overnight in the ER will be followed up by a visit to a specialist who I hope will be able to give me a more specific timeframe. Good luck and thorough healing for those likewise injured.

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  35. Jeffon 12 Jul 2015 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for the tips. Three weeks in from breaking ribs in Alaska and the 5K ride to get back home last week. Sneezing is the worst hell. Good info here.

  36. Laurieon 08 Sep 2015 at 9:40 am

    I was kicked by my horse as he was fighting off yellow jackets. I was leading him & was in the danger zone- not close enough to dampen the blow & not far enough to be have missed it. There I was rolling & moaning around in the sand in my arena I did have my helmet on because I was planning to ride. I knew my cell phone was in the barn. Hot sunny afternoon I started to crawl towards the side of the ring for shade & the fact I could not stand up. I got there & pulled myself up on the chair. My horse was standing in the ring at the other end. I got up walked ( & I use the term loosely very loosely) over to him walked back to the barn. Untacked him & turned him out. Walked up to the house sat down inside & decided what to do. Called my husband & told him he was going to have to take me to the emergency room because I had been kicked. He was on his way but traffic was bad. After the call I sat a minute & called him back & told him I thought I better call 911-best thing I ever did. 2 broken ribs & lacerated liver 2 1/2 days in icu. I broke ribs years ago in a car accident. I stayed in the hospital longer after that due to a concussion & punctured lung. It is great to be at home but even better is being able to share & read about your experiences

  37. Icydudeon 25 Jan 2016 at 10:03 pm

    I’m in week 4 of my injury. I slipped on ice while carrying a champagne bottle on NYE. Worried about the bottle crashing to the ground I tucked it in like a running back and slammed my left side to the ground with the bottle between my arm and ribs and the bottle won. My ribs were cracked.

    I’m not good at not being active and have been depressed not really being able to do my cardio … basketball or running. I have two snowboarding trips so and I did find a website about exercises you can do for ribs and squats and lunges are pretty much ok! Just don’t use weights on the torso! I had a setback doing lats. Elevated row was ok for me but my injury is on the lower left of my ribs.

  38. Jayneon 11 Feb 2016 at 12:55 am

    Hi thanks for this blog. I fell in the street 4 weeks ago and landed chest first on my newly purchased Christmas Tree muffin pan. Like others I couldn’t seem to save my fall and knew all was not well. After four weeks I’m much more mobile but still sore where my bra fits. Anyone got any advice about how to deal with this? At first I tried not wearing a bra but having a rather ample chest I found the weight needed supporting. I am trying to get back to normal but am due to go on vacation in just over a week. Managing without meds at the moment as I found the constipation excruciating! Even stool softeners with each dose did not help.

    All medical websites and docs say recovery up to 6 weeks, but how do they know, after all they don’t tend to see the patients in the latter stages of recovery.

  39. Tommion 07 Mar 2016 at 12:27 pm

    I fractured a rib or two about one week ago while skateboarding and I can confirm pain getting worse 3-4 days in. It’s soooo boring not being able to do any sports.

  40. WilliamFamon 06 May 2016 at 1:00 pm

    I am so grateful for your forum.Much thanks again. Awesome.

  41. Pazzaon 10 Mar 2017 at 11:34 pm

    Yeh I’m feeling your pain bud! Broke two snowboarding in Sol (tired legs at the end of the day). Sneezing is like the worst thing ever (ouch)! Driving is problematic just due to the turning your body, so probably give that another week!
    Here’s to healing ????

  42. Lindaon 19 Nov 2017 at 9:46 am

    Thanks for the guidance. I am a klutz,or there is something wrong with my balance. Just barely getting over a high ankle sprain and I fall going into my closet.my side hit some shoe boxes. Iced it but didn’t think much of it. Couple days later awoke in agony. X Ray showed 2 broken ribs. I am so frustrated, can’t seem to stay on my own 2feet!

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