How To Sleep With Broken Ribs (Step By Step)

How Can I Drive With Broken Ribs– 5 Tips

1. Pain Medication

If you have fractured ribs, your first priority is rest. You should avoid lifting heavy objects and try not to exert too much force. While you can walk around and do some light work while resting, you should not try driving until you have received the green light from your healthcare provider. In addition to rest, pain control is important for healing and improving your quality of life. Walking and light computer work are okay until your ribs have fully healed.

2. Adapting Sleeping Position

Sleeping in bed with broken ribs is a tough adjustment for the recovering driver. Sleeping on the side of the injured side may help ease the pain, but sleeping on the back will put additional pressure on the ribs and increase your risk of further injury. You may need to use support pillows to prop yourself up. Place one under each arm and the other under the knees for additional support. A body pillow can also be placed beneath the head and arms.

3. Surgery

Some people may be able to deal with pain without surgery, but others may require additional treatment, such as a rib repair surgery. Surgery for fractured ribs is a necessity if the rib is severe or has been fractured, and in some cases, an airway puncture may require a surgical procedure to remove air or blood. For some people, metal plates will be used to repair the ribs after a traumatic event.

4. Deep Breathing Exercises

There are many ways to avoid pneumonia and deep breathing exercises can help you avoid it. Deep breathing exercises help keep the lungs from collapsing, which can lead to further injuries. Although these exercises are not very effective for a broken rib, they can reduce the pain of your chest. You should always practice these exercises under the supervision of a medical professional, as they can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

5. Taking Acetaminophen Before Driving

Taking acetaminophen prior to driving with broken ribs is not recommended if you have just sustained a rib fracture. While this medication may relieve the pain, it could increase the risk of developing a more serious injury, such as pneumonia. Taking acetaminophen before driving with broken ribs will not help you, but it will help you breathe easier.



To help prevent a collapsed lung or lung infection, do slow deep-breathing and gentle coughing exercises every 2 hours. Holding a pillow or blanket against your injured rib can make these less painful. You may need to take your pain medicine first. Your provider may tell you to use a device called a spirometer to help with the breathing exercises. These exercises help prevent a partial lung collapse and pneumonia. It is important to stay active. Do not rest in bed all day. Your provider will talk with you about when you can return to: Your everyday activitiesWork, which will depend on the type of job you haveSports or other high impact activity While you heal, avoid movements that put painful pressure on your ribs. These include doing crunches and pushing, pulling, or lifting heavy objects.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most individuals with isolated rib fractures will recover without serious side effects. If other organs have also been injured, however, recovery will depend on the extent of those injuries and underlying medical conditions.

Complications of Rib Injury

Pain: Immediate (acute) and can be severe even after minor rib injuries, the area of rib injury is sore to touch and worse on certain movements. In most the pain will eventually settle, however occasionally it can persist and become chronic causing significant issues. Reasons of this include:

Failure to manage appropriately after the initial injury, no or not enough painkillers, appropriate rest, restrictions of activity and tailored return to normal activities.

Rib fractures or any bone that fails to heal properly can lead to conditions called mal-union, delayed healing or non-union. Symptoms of a fracture that is not healing normally include tenderness, swelling, and an aching pain that may be felt deep within the affected bone.

Non-Union: Permanent failure of healing following a broken bone unless intervention (such as surgery) is performed. It may occur when the fracture moves too much (displaced), has a poor blood supply or gets infected Delayed Union: Defined as a failure to reach bony union by 6 months post-injury and includes fractures that are taking longer than expected to heal Mal-Union: Occurs when a fractured bone heals in an abnormal position, which can lead to impaired function of the bone or limb and make it look like it is ‘bent’

Chest CT scan showing a non-healed rib injury (non-union) and accompanying persistent pain

Rib injury can cause associated complex rib injury involving a junction between sternum and rib leading to dislocation or subluxation at the junction. For more information see complex chest wall injuries.

Breathlessness: Shortness of breath acutely is usually caused by the chest wall pain not allowing deep breaths to be taken, occasionally it can be associated with the lung collapsing after the injury; a build-up of fluid in the chest cavity (effusion) or even a developing chest infection (pneumonia). Chronically, on-going breathlessness can be due to chronic pain but also occasionally to complications of retained blood or fluid in the chest cavity which can trap the lung.

Internal injuries: Even relatively minor chest injuries can lead to internal injury to the lung (lung bruising (contusions), collapse (pneumothorax), effusions (blood or fluid) and rarely hernias (whether the lung or upper abdominal contents starts providing between broken ribs) or even a diaphragmatic (the muscle between the abdomen and the chest) hernia whereby the bowel contents slip into the chest from a hole or hernia in the diaphragm. Symptoms typically include on-going pain and breathlessness, swelling if a chest wall hernia and diagnosis requires a chest x-ray or even a chest CT scan.

Chest CT scan showing a developing chest wall hernia (red arrow) following multiple rib injuries of the lower chest wall 2 years earlier


Despite the fact that broken ribs are relatively uncommon, they do pose certain risks to motor vehicle occupants. The occupants of motor vehicles who sustain fractures to the ribs are at an increased risk of fatality in the first 24 hours after the accident. The effects are even worse for older patients. The occupants of motor vehicles who sustain rib fractures with an AIS of three or higher are particularly vulnerable.

To sum up, rib fracture is one of the dangerous injuries, as it is easy to cause trauma and impact to painful chest wall. The good pain management is necessary for you. Consult your doctor and follow your injuries help you avoid the consequences of this broken. Today there are many useful physical exercises that can help people quick recovery. In case you need more information or you want to share your experience, feel free leave your comments on below.

How long do rib injuries take to heal?

Broken (fractured) or bruised ribs often heal in about six weeks. However the recovery time may be much longer, especially for displaced fractures (the broken ends of your rib no longer line up with one another).

Taking Deep Breaths

This might prove to be difficult at first, but with time you get hang of it. Deep breaths can be painful to your chest, especially if the injuries are in their initial stage.

Doctors recommend that you begin with shallow breathing exercises. This ensures that you don’t cause additional injuries to your ribs.

Keep in mind that breathing exercises are supposed to be taken under a qualified respiratory therapist. If shallow breathing isn’t done right, you risk pneumonia infections, among other respiratory illnesses.

A spirometer, a device used in measuring the volume of air exhaled and inhaled, is used in this breathing exercise. This is important as it will enable you to gauge how deeply you should breathe plus how you feel.

Sleeping While Sitting Upright

Ideally, this is the best sleep position for patients with a broken rib. This position can help your ribs heal quickly than lying down on the bed. Sleeping while lying down may exert unwanted pressures on the spine, which might be transferred to the ribs. This, in turn, causes the ribs to ache, making it difficult to get out of bed.

When in this sleep position, ensure you have a pillow at your head and beneath your arms. Placing the pillows below your arms may go a long way in preventing any involuntary movements when asleep.

Pillows are essential for such kinds of phenomena since they increase the degree of comfort. Many pillows are designed with a patient’s needs in mind. For example, a patient with multiples rib fractures has many options when buying these custom-designed pillows like the wedge pillow.

If your choice is to sleep upright, consider getting a recliner for maximum comfort. You can also go for a chaise lounge chair. Pick the one that suits your best.

Recliners are pretty advantageous when it comes to sleeping upright. Doctors popularly recommend these chairs since they put you at an elevated angle with maximum comfort.

The good thing about these chairs is that they come packed with exciting features like zero gravity. The gravitational option enables you to adjust your back and head to specific positions you feel comfortable in. With the adjustable features, you can quickly get out of the chair in the morning.

The chaise lounge chair is more like a recliner but unique in its way. It comes with features that enable you to sleep at an elevated angle, depending on your adjustment choice.

Luxurious as it may be, consider getting a chair with an armrest (recommended for patients with rib trauma) and a backrest pillow. This pillow allows you to attain support and a great position with a comfortable balance. Also, ensure your chest remains straightened for proper breathing and coughing.

What kinds of activity can I do?

If you’ve broken a rib (or several), one of the best things you can do is simply rest. This will not only reduce some of the pain but also help your body navigate the healing process.

Still, you need some level of physical activity for the rest of your body and overall health. You’ll be able to get up and walk around pretty early in the recovery process, but it’s best to wait until your healthcare provider gives you the green light.

Once you get the go-ahead to start walking around, you can also return to other low-impact activities, including:

  • sexual activity
  • light housework
  • simple errands
  • working, as long as it doesn’t involve heavy lifting or physical exertion

Things to avoid

As you recover, there are certain things you shouldn’t do, including:

  • lifting anything over 10 pounds
  • playing contact sports
  • doing any activities that require pushing, pulling, or stretching, including crunches and pull-ups
  • engaging in high-impact activities, such as running, horseback riding, or ATV riding
  • playing golf; even that gentle swinging can cause excruciating pain if you have a broken rib


Isolated rib fractures in younger patients have a good prognosis. Older patients have a higher incidence of significant pulmonary complications. In one study, 16% of patients 65 years and older with isolated blunt chest trauma had some delayed adverse event, defined as pneumonia, ARDS, unanticipated intubation, need to transfer patient to ICU for hypoxemia, and death from pulmonary sequelae. [14]

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Chest x-ray showing several right-sided broken rib

Chest x-ray showing several right-sided broken ribs and a collection of fluid or effusion in a middle-aged man with pain and breathlessness following a fall. He thought he might have ‘cracked’ a rib

The diagnosis of a rib injury is what doctors call a clinical one; that is taking a precise history of the injury coupled with a careful physical examination with a doctor familiar with chest wall injuries is usually all that is required, particularly if it’s a minor rib injury. There is no specific blood test unless an associated chest infection or other internal complication is suspected. Radiological assessment (chest x-ray) may be helpful to assess the severity of the rib injury and identify other associated problems such as fluid in the chest or a collapsed lung. If the injury is subtle occasionally a chest wall ultrasound may demonstrate a ‘hairline’ or partial rib fracture as well as identifying internal problems such a fluid (effusion), bruising of the lung (contusions) or lung collapse (pneumothorax). The most sensitive radiological investigation particularly if more than one or two rib injuries is suspected, is a Chest CT scan. This allows the number and severity of the rib injuries to be clearly seen as well as identifying any other chest related injuries such as lung bruising or contusions.

Following the Chest X-ray of the middle aged-man w

Following the Chest X-ray of the middle aged-man with pain and breathing issues he underwent a Chest CT scan and 3D reconstruction of his chest wall. This demonstrated 4 broken ribs from his fall.

Video of a Chest CT scan showing multiple right sided broken ribs and lung bruising (contusions) from a ski accident. Patient had a chest drain inserted.

Reader Success Stories

  • Patricia Edwards

Jun 11, 2018

    Patricia Edwards Jun 11, 2018

    “This article made more clear to me that I may continue daily activities, so long as I do not strain or lift weights that increase pain. Being sedentary would cause join pain caused by osteoarthritis to be worse, so knowing I may safely continue moderate activity is reassuring to me. ” …” more

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