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“How Do I Know if My Ribs Are Bruised Or Broken?” I Was Hurt At Work

rib injury

You just got done retrieving an item from a high up shelf at work. As soon as you step off the ladder it folds in on itself and falls on top of you. You shake off the accident and go back to work but a few hours later you notice that it hurts to breathe.

Upon further investigation bruises are starting to form around your chest area. It’s likely that the accident either bruised or broke your ribs.

“How do I know if my ribs are bruised or broken?” is a question that immediately pops into your head.

Keep reading to find out the many differences and similarities between bruised and broken ribs.

1. Bruised Ribs

If your ribs hurt but they aren’t broken then they qualify as bruised. This condition isn’t as severe as a break or fracture but it shouldn’t be taken lightly. You still need to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. 


The main symptom of bruised ribs is intense pain when you breathe. You may also feel discomfort when you laugh, cough, bend or twist a certain way. Sometimes you’ll have visible bruises around the area where you were injured. 

Like with any visible injury, these bruises will hurt if you press down on them. You may also experience swelling around the area and spasming chest muscles. 

How is it Diagnosed? 

If you suspect that you have bruised ribs you need to go see an injury doctor for a diagnosis. They will watch you breathe and take X-rays to make sure that you’re suffering from bruises and not broken ribs.  

Sometimes they’ll take it a step further and also do a CT scan on top of the X-ray. It all depends on the nature of your injury. 

Treating Bruised Ribs 

Bruised ribs and rib injuries, in general, aren’t easy to treat. You can’t put a cast or Band-Aid on it and call it a day because it’s inside the body. Your doctor will suggest putting ice on it in order to reduce the swelling. 

Again, it will hurt a lot when you breathe and try to perform normal activities. You will be given pain medications to ease your suffering. 

How Long Will it Take to Heal? 

Bruised ribs take around a month to heal. Give or take depending on how bad your injury was.

If after a few weeks your pain is still persisting go back and see your worker’s comp doctor. They’ll need to look over you again to find out what’s going on. 

2. Broken and Fractured Ribs 

Broken and fractured ribs are more severe than bruised ones. If the is injury bad enough it could do some internal damage. 


Broken ribs have about the same symptoms that bruised ribs do. You’ll feel pain when you touch your chest, it will hurt to breathe, you won’t be able to twist or move much without feeling a sharp pain, and coughing will hurt. You may also hear an audible noise when your ribs break or feel them sort of pop. 

How is it Diagnosed? 

The doctor will listen to your lungs and watch you breathe as an initial exam. Once they’ve done that you’ll be given an X-ray. Sometimes the X-ray does miss things.

If the doctor thinks this is the case, they will move on to more extreme measures. You could be given a CT scan.

It will pick up things that the X-Ray didn’t and make it easier for the doctor to see if your ribs breaking did any damage to your internal organs. For everything that the CT scan doesn’t pick up, there is an MRI

How Bad Could it Be? 

The seriousness of your injury all depends on where the break occurs. If it happened up toward the top then it could puncture a blood vessel. Breaks that occur more toward the middle could damage a lung. 

Ones that happen toward the bottom have the potential to harm your kidneys, spleen, or liver. 

How are Broken Ribs Treated? 

Broken ribs take around 6 months or more to heal up. During this time you’ll have to take a break from any sports you’re a part of. If your job is more physical you’ll have to go on medical leave for a little while. 

Putting an icepack on the area will help ease some of the pain and swelling. Your doctor will prescribe pain relievers or give you a few over-the-counter suggestions. 

If your rib has punctured one of your lungs or damaged another one of your organs you most likely will have to go in for surgery. You may also have to have your ribs repaired using a metal plate. This is quite rare but not unheard of. 

3. Similarities Between Breaks and Bruises 

No matter if you have a bruise or a break, you will run into some kind of complications. The main ones are having to make daily adjustments, sitting up, and breathing. 

Making Daily Adjustments 

Again, if the injury is too bad then you may have to take a little time off work. It’s possible that you’ll need to make some adjustments when you’re sleeping.

You might not be able to lay flat which can take a little bit of getting used to. 

Sitting Up 

If you can’t lay flat while you’re sleeping then you may have had to make a recliner your bed for a while. The more you sit up the better because it can help with breathing. 

Breathing Normally  

It’s best if you don’t cough but if you have to, hugging a pillow against you will stop you from jostling around as much. Your doctor will also show you how to do some breathing exercises that you should be diligent about. 

Determining What Kind of Rib Injury You Have

If your ribs are injured at work, you will need to act fast to get a diagnosis and treatment. The more you wait around, the worse the problem can get. Use this guide to determine which rib injury you have so you can get the help you need. 

If you’re injured on the job you’ll have to go to a worker’s compensation doctor in order to get your diagnosis.

Call 1-800-897-8440 to find a physician near you or fill out a short form below to make an appointment.


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