Information for patients with rib injuries

Cork Emergency Departments

Chest injury instructions

You have either bruised or broken your ribs. If they are bruised the pain you feel when breathing, coughing or sneezing may last for up to four weeks, if broken (cracked or fractured) the pain may last for up to eight weeks.

The pain may be severe and painkillers may only be able to soothe it a little, but it is important to use them as instructed and follow the instructions below:

Attend an Emergency Department if : you develop sudden shortness of breath.

Contact your GP If: If you develop a fever, cough, shortness of breath or change in your usual sputum (phlegm), as this may be due to a chest infection.

While it may take time before your symptoms start to get better, if any of your symptoms (including pain) are worsen please contact your GP.

If you take any medication that thins your blood (such as warfarin), you must make an appointment to see your GP within a few days.

To prevent problems such as chest infection it is important to:

Incentive spirometry log book

How many balls should I aim to rise?  
Number of repetitions  
How often  
Prescribed by: Date:
Date Time How many did repetitions did you do? How many reached target?

Advice on discharge


It is very important to continue to take regular pain relief as prescribed. This is so you can deep breathe, cough effectively and move around whilst the injury heals. If you find that your pain medication is not working, contact your GP or speak with a pharmacist.

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Exercise and activity

Keep mobile (e.g. walking) – this is the most effective way to help you to take deep breaths and clear any phlegm. Gradually build up your level of physical activity. You may need practical help with some tasks from family and friends but aim to complete everyday activities as much as possible. To reduce the risk of developing pain or stiffness in your shoulder or spine, it is important that you continue to move around as usual and that your pain is sufficiently controlled to allow this.


Your body is using energy to heal itself so you may feel more tired than normal. Allow yourself rest time each day to aid your recovery. You will feel better on some days than others; this is normal. Avoid spending prolonged periods of time in bed.


Avoid heavy lifting, pulling or pushing for 6-8 weeks.


You may find it helpful to sleep sitting upright for the first few nights, but this is different for each individual. The best way to achieve this, is in bed with additional pillows.


Smoking is best avoided; it is recognised that smokers have a higher risk of developing complications, such as chest infections, after chest wall injuries.

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Make sure you can wear a seatbelt comfortably and perform manoeuvres and an emergency stop without undue pain. You should not drive while under the influence of opioids; please be aware the pain relief you are prescribed may contain opioids. If you have any questions regarding your ability and safety to drive, please contact your GP before attempting any journey.


Depending upon your job and injury severity, you may need to take some time off work whilst the fracture heals. If your job involves a lot of manual handling/lifting, it may be necessary to discuss with your employer whether you can do other duties while your injury heals.

If you have any concerns about when you can return to work, it may be helpful to discuss these with your doctor or GP.

Adapted by Dr Ben Fusco from:

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If you are concerned, please contact the Emergency Department you first attended:

Mercy Injury Unit, Gurranabraher (021)4926900

LIU Mallow(022)58506

LIU Bantry(027)52900

Dr Ben Fusco, Dr Íomhar O' Sullivan. Last review Dr IOS 31/10/23.