Tips for an Athlete With Bruised Ribs

Doctors typically can't treat bruised ribs.
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A bruised rib is a common injury for athletes who play contact sports. The injury, which can occur as a result of a fall or blow to the side, is extremely painful and often makes people feel as though they can't breathe.


Unlike other bones, ribs can't be immobilized, which can make the healing process especially long. With proper home treatment, however, athletes can shorten the healing time and decrease pain. If you think you have a bruised rib, consult your doctor first, because several serious conditions can feel like rib bruising.

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First 48 Hours

The decisions that you make in the first 48 hours after your rib is bruised can greatly affect healing time. Ask your doctor if he recommends an anti-inflammatory medication to ease pain and swelling to make it easier to breathe. Get plenty of rest and avoid exercise and roughhousing. Apply ice packs to the area, alternating between 15 minutes with ice and 15 minutes without. Practice taking slow, deep breaths. This can help you adjust to breathing with a bruised rib as well as lessen the severity of bruising.



Follow your doctor's directions about when you can return to exercising. Generally speaking, moderate aerobic exercise can help you remain in shape as well as decrease breathing difficulties, according to "Netter's Sports Medicine." Avoid placing any pressure on the bruised rib or engaging in heavy aerobic exercise. Walking and light jogging are generally ideal during recovery.



Proper nutrition decreases healing time. Take a calcium and vitamin D supplement, and get 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight daily. This improves bone health and stimulates your body to make new osteocytes, the cells that give rise to bone, according to "Biology: Life on Earth with Physiology." Weak and brittle bones not only increase healing time but can also increase your chances of developing another bruised rib when you return to your sport. If you feel too sick to eat after the bruised rib, drink fruit smoothies or energy shakes.


Returning to Sports

You shouldn't return to full participation in your sport until you receive your doctor's permission. If you experience any pain while training, stop immediately. For lifting exercises, start with lighter weights than you normally would and gradually build back up to full capacity. This decreases stress on your rib and gives it additional time to heal. If your chosen sport requires constant pressure on the ribs, such as wrestling or jujistu, consider sitting out a season. While doing so may be frustrating, another rib injury could permanently remove you from the sport. Moreover, playing sports before you're completely healed will decrease your performance and train your muscles to move in improper ways.



Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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