Understanding the pain and duration of a cracked rib

Cracked ribs are a common injury that can occur following an accident, fall or violent impact. They often cause severe chest pain and limit upper body mobility. In this article, we’ll look at what causes a cracked rib, how long it takes to heal and how long the associated pain lasts.

What is a cracked rib?

A cracked rib, also known as a partial fracture, is a fissure in one of the bones of the thoracic cage. A complete fracture is characterized by a total break in the bone, while the crack still has an intact portion. Costal fractures are generally benign, but this of course depends on their severity.

Symptoms of a cracked rib

When you have a cracked rib, you will feel intense pain during movements such as :

  • Breathing in deeply
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Laugh
  • Bend or turn

It is also common to feel discomfort when touching the affected area.

Causes of a cracked rib

There are several reasons why you may end up with a cracked rib:

  1. Car accidents, the most common cause.
  2. Falls or violent impacts during physical activities or sports.
  3. Repetitive movements involving the rib cage and arms, such as paddling for long periods.
  4. Certain degenerative bone diseases, such as osteoporosis, make you more susceptible to this type of injury.

How long does the pain associated with a cracked rib last?

The duration of pain varies according to the individual and the severity of the fracture. On average, it takes about 4 to 6 weeks for a cracked rib to heal. During this period, the pain should gradually diminish. However, some people may still experience mild pain for several months after the initial injury.

Pain management

To relieve the pain of a cracked rib, it’s important to follow your doctor’s advice. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Stay at rest: avoid activities that cause increased chest pain. Rest and give your body time to heal.
  • Take painkillers: as recommended by your doctor, take over-the-counter painkillers to help relieve the pain.
  • Cold the painful area: apply an ice pack wrapped in a clean towel for 20 minutes every hour to ease inflammation and reduce pain.

Possible consequences of an untreated cracked rib

Although most cracked ribs heal without major intervention, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional to assess the severity of the situation and ensure proper recovery. Without proper care, certain complications may arise:

  • Pneumothorax: an accumulation of air between the lungs and the chest wall, which can compress the lungs and cause excessive swelling of the thorax.
  • Hemothorax: the presence of blood in the pleural space (between the rib cage and the lungs) resulting from damage to the blood vessels. It can be dangerous and requires rapid medical attention.
  • Pulmonary atelectasis: partial or complete collapse of the lungs, often caused by lack of mobility due to pain.

How to prevent cracked ribs?

It can be difficult to completely prevent cracked ribs, but here are some tips to help reduce the risk:

  1. Always wear a seatbelt: this will help spread the impact in the event of an accident and protect your ribcage.
  2. Keep fit: strengthen your muscles and respiratory system through aerobic and strength-building activities.
  3. Avoid dangerous sports that can cause violent shocks to the thorax. If you do take part in such sports, wear the appropriate protective equipment.
  4. Eat a balanced diet rich in calcium to maintain strong, healthy bones.


In conclusion, a cracked rib is a common injury whose duration varies according to severity and medical management. Rest, pain management and follow-up with a healthcare professional are essential to ensure rapid healing and avoid any complications. By following these tips, you can minimize the duration of pain associated with cracked ribs and get back on your feet quickly.