Safe Exercises When You Have Fractured Ribs

Young Woman Practicing Yoga, Stretching Arms and Legs, Front View
A woman is practicing stretching and meditating in her home. (Image: DAJ/amana images/Getty Images)

A fractured rib can be excruciatingly painful, interfering with something as basic as the ability to breathe. Severe fractures can even lead to a collapsed lung. While exercise can help you recover from injuries more quickly, you should not exercise until you get the go-ahead from your doctor, who may recommend specific exercises. If you don't get a plan from your doctor, though, focus on slowly and steadily increasing the intensity of your workouts over several weeks.

Deep-Breathing Exercises

Deep-breathing exercises can help prevent a collapsed lung in the first few days after your injury. Every two hours -- or according to the schedule advised by your physician -- breathe in slowly and deeply, filling your lungs. Exhale slowly, and continue breathing deeply for two to three minutes. Next, gently cough several times, then breathe deeply again. If the routine is too painful, ask your doctor for pain medication, or hold a pillow or towel over your fractured rib.

Cardiovascular Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise helps keep your heart healthy, but it also increases your rate of breathing -- a painful proposition for someone with a fractured rib. Try gentle cardio such as walking your dog or cycling at a slow, leisurely pace. As you begin to recover, you can steadily increase the intensity of your routine by picking up your pace and increasing the length of your workout. If you have trouble breathing, talk to your doctor before doing any cardio.

Stretching

Stretching routines, such as yoga and Pilates, can help loosen up your muscles. This can help you avoid pain from muscle stiffness if your usual injury undermines your usual exercise routine. Stick with stretches that don't compress your chest, and be sure to tell your instructor you have a broken rib. You can also stretch at home. Try stretching your chest to alleviate pain by bending your elbows and extending them back toward your back. If you experience back pain from your injury, get on all fours and arch your back, holding for 20 seconds. Then push the small of your back down toward the ground and hold for an additional 20 seconds.

Weight Training

Weight training keeps your muscles and bones strong, and regular weight-bearing exercise can increase bone density, preventing future fractures. Steer clear of workout machines such as the chest press that rely on your chest muscles. Instead, try low-intensity weight-bearing exercises such as squats, lunges, bicep curls and leg presses. As your pain subsides and your injuries begin to heal, you can begin incorporating elements of your old routine, but start slowly and avoid any exercises that cause pain in your ribs.

Routines to Avoid

Avoid contact sports for at least six weeks after your rib fracture. A blow to the chest or side can worsen the break and even collapse your lung. Exercise routines that put you at risk of falling, such as jumping on a trampoline, are equally dangerous. You should also avoid starting a new workout routine or increasing the intensity of your current routine while your injury heals.

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