Any trauma or injury to the chest can lead to a bruised rib. Blood collects around the injured area and is visible on the skin because the ribs are close to the surface. The site can be discolored or the skin can be pushed by the force of bleeding and cause a bump called a hematoma. Tenderness may also be felt in the bruised area, which is also known as a contusion. A bruised rib is a less serious injury and takes a shorter time to heal than if the ribs are broken or separated.
Signs of a bruised rib, in addition to tenderness and visible discoloration, include pain when taking a deep breath, shortness of breath, and pain that occurs with any kind of movement. The ribs can be easily injured from an impact because they get pushed against the surrounding muscle. Such injuries are common in car accidents as well as with football and hockey players.
A typical human rib cage has 24 ribs. The first set of seven ribs connects to both the spine and the breast bone via the costal cartilage. These are called true ribs. Another three pairs of ribs, known as false ribs, connect to the spine and attach to the true ribs in the front. Two sets of ribs known as floating ribs attach to the spine but end in the front with no attachments.
When a bruised rib occurs, the injury might be serious enough that a physician will advise an x-ray. A doctor can then diagnose a cracked rib or any signs of lung trauma. If left untreated, the bone bruise or other internal bruising can affect how the lungs can expand, which can lead to an infection or pneumonia. Simple treatments include administering pain killers or the use of an ice pack to relieve pain. Ice should be applied immediately and used intermittently for up to two days after the injury.
Deep breathing may also be advised to keep the muscles around the bruised rib in tone. If the trauma is serious enough, a protective jacket or vest might be needed. It is never recommended to wrap the ribs in any material because constriction can lead to pneumonia, and sports or other potentially traumatic activities should be avoided. Exercise and weight lifting could also make the injury worse and possibly lead to life-long pain or respiratory issues. A bruised rib can take up to four weeks to fully heal.