Bruised Rib in Children: Care Instructions

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Chest showing ribs, sternum, and cartilage

Overview

Your child can get a bruised rib from falling or getting hit, such as in an accident or while playing sports. The medical term for a bruise is "contusion." Small blood vessels get torn and leak blood under the skin.

Most people think of a bruise as a black-and-blue area. But bones and muscles can also get bruised. An injury may damage the rib but not cause a bruise that you can see.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a rib is bruised or broken. The symptoms may be the same. And a broken bone can't always be seen on an X-ray. But the treatment for a bruised rib is often the same as treatment for a broken one.

An injury to the ribs can cause pain. The pain may be worse when your child breathes deeply, coughs, or sneezes.

In most cases, a bruised rib will heal on its own. Your child can take pain medicine while the rib mends. Pain relief allows your child to take deep breaths.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Rest and protect the injured or sore area. Have your child stop, change, or take a break from any activity that causes pain.
  • Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your child's skin.
  • After 2 or 3 days, if the swelling is gone, put a heating pad set on low or a warm cloth on your child's chest. Some doctors suggest that you go back and forth between hot and cold. Put a thin cloth between the heating pad and your child's skin.
  • Ask your doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). No one younger than 20 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness. Do not give naproxen (Aleve) to a child younger than 12 unless your doctor says it's okay. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • As the pain gets better, your child can slowly return to their normal activities. Be patient, because rib bruises can take weeks or months to heal. If the pain gets worse, it may be a sign that your child needs to rest a while longer.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a new or worse cough.
  • Your child has new or worse pain.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.