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How long should you rest your ribs?

Resting injured ribs is crucial for healing, but how long should you actually stay inactive? The right resting time depends on the severity of the injury. Minor rib strains may only require a few days of rest while more serious injuries can take 6 weeks or longer to heal. Let’s review some key questions to help determine the proper rib rest time.

What are the levels of rib injuries?

Not all rib injuries are the same. Doctors classify rib injuries into three main categories:

  • Rib contusion (bruise) – This is a minor injury involving slight damage to the ribs or surrounding muscle/tissue without breaking the bone. Contusions cause pain, swelling, and difficulty breathing.
  • Rib fracture – The rib bone cracks partially or all the way through. Fractures are very painful and breaths may trigger sharp chest pains.
  • Flail chest – Multiple adjacent ribs are fractured in several places, causing a free-floating rib segment. This severe injury impairs breathing.

The more serious the injury, the longer rest is required for adequate healing.

How much movement is safe with injured ribs?

While complete bed rest was once standard, doctors now recommend light activity for most rib injuries. However, any movement that causes sharp pains in the ribs or chest should be avoided. Here are some general movement guidelines based on injury severity:

  • Contusions – Can resume light activity after a few days of rest. Take over-the-counter pain medication as needed.
  • Fractures – Limit activity for 2-6 weeks. Don’t lift, twist, or bend. Use an arm sling on fractured side.
  • Flail chest – Strict rest for 6+ weeks. May require hospitalization and surgery. Follow all doctor instructions.

Regardless of injury, do not rush back into sports, heavy lifting, or strenuous activity. Increase activity slowly and incrementally. Stop immediately if pain increases or breathing becomes difficult.

How can you tell if your ribs are healing properly?

Signs that your ribs are healing well and you’re ready to increase activity include:

  • Pain has reduced to mild soreness
  • You can take deep breaths without sharp pains
  • Swelling has gone down
  • You can move and stretch without major discomfort
  • Fractures show signs of knitting on X-rays

Indications that you need more rest time:

  • Severe, stabbing pain continues
  • Breathing and coughing is very painful
  • The injury area is still swollen or bruised
  • Movement and stretching causes major pain
  • Fractures appear unchanged on X-rays

If pain and symptoms persist or get worse, see your doctor to ensure proper healing.

When can you return to work after a rib injury?

Returning to work will depend on your job duties and rate of healing. Here are general timelines:

  • Desk job – Can return after 5-10 days if pain is managed.
  • Light manual labor – Take 2-4 weeks leave, and avoid heavy lifting.
  • Strenuous manual labor – Take 4-8 weeks leave until swelling/pain is minimal.
  • Professional athletes – At least 6 weeks away from contact sports after fractures.

For physically demanding jobs, have your doctor evaluate your rib healing before returning to determine any work restrictions or limitations. Inform your employer of the injury so accommodations can be made if needed.

What factors affect rib injury recovery times?

Some key factors impact how quickly rib injuries heal:

  • Age – Older adults recover slower due to weaker bones and reduced blood flow.
  • Overall health – Chronic conditions like COPD, osteoporosis, and diabetes slow healing.
  • Medications – Steroids, chemo, and some supplements inhibit healing.
  • Location/severity of break – Lower rib fractures take longer. Multiple fractures increase recovery time.
  • Adherence to rest/treatment – Proper rest and medical care support faster healing.

The typical person under 65 with no major health issues can expect a 3-6 week recovery for fractured ribs following doctor advice. Those over 65 or with complicating factors may require 2-3 months.

When should you seek medical treatment?

See a doctor for any rib injury with the following symptoms:

  • Difficult, painful breathing
  • Inability to catch your breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Persistent intense pain
  • Visible deformity or protrusion
  • Signs of shock (rapid heart rate, dizziness, fainting)

Seek immediate emergency care if breathing is severely impaired or a lung may have collapsed. For less severe symptoms, call your doctor right away.


Healing broken or bruised ribs takes time and proper rest. While each case differs, minor rib strains may resolve in days, uncomplicated fractures take 3-6 weeks, and major flail chest injuries require 6+ weeks away from activity and work. Let pain be your guide – if it hurts, stop and rest your ribs longer. With patience and prudence, you can recover and be back to normal before you know it.

How Long Should You Rest Your Ribs? – The Definitive Guide

What are Ribs?

Ribs are curved bones that protect the lungs, heart, and other internal organs. They form your rib cage and attach to the spine in the back. Humans have 24 total ribs, 12 on each side, consisting of:

  • True ribs (ribs 1-7) – Connected directly to the breastbone
  • False ribs (ribs 8-10) – Indirectly connected to breastbone via cartilage
  • Floating ribs (ribs 11-12) – No breastbone attachment

Ribs are very thin and susceptible to injury, especially fractures and bruising. Let’s look at how long you should rest injured ribs for proper healing.

Types of Rib Injuries

There are three main categories of rib injuries:


A rib contusion refers to bruised, swollen tissue around the ribs with no fracture. It is the mildest rib injury but still painful.


A rib fracture means the bone itself cracks or breaks. This is extremely painful and can impair breathing.

Flail Chest

With flail chest, multiple adjacent ribs are fractured in several places, causing a free-floating rib segment. This severe injury requires prompt medical attention.

Recovery Times by Injury Severity

Recommended rest times vary based on the extent of rib injury:

Injury Type Recovery Time
Contusion 5-10 days rest
Fracture 3-8 weeks rest
Flail Chest 6+ weeks rest

Minor contusions require shorter rest while fractures and flail chest demand much longer recovery periods of strict activity avoidance.

Guiding Principles for Rib Rest

Use these key principles to guide rib rest and recovery:

  • Avoid any activity that causes sharp rib and chest pains
  • Do not rush back into sports, lifting, or strenuous work
  • Resume light activity slowly if pain is minor and manageable
  • Follow all restrictions given by your doctor
  • Increase activity gradually over weeks as able
  • Stop activity immediately if pain worsens or breathing is impaired

Signs Your Ribs are Healing

Indications your ribs are healing well:

  • Pain decreases to mild soreness
  • Breathing and coughing easier
  • Swelling around injury reduces
  • Able to stretch and move with minimal discomfort
  • X-rays show fractures knitting back together

Seek prompt medical care if pain or symptoms worsen or breathing becomes difficult. This may signal complications.

Returning to Work and Activity

Use the following general timelines for returning to work and activity:

Desk Work

May return after 5-10 days if pain allows

Light Manual Labor

Take 2-4 weeks leave before returning, avoid heavy lifting

Strenuous Manual Labor

Take 4-8 weeks leave before returning to physically demanding job duties

Contact Sports

Athletes should rest for 6+ weeks after fractures before playing contact sports

Factors That Delay Rib Healing

Factors that may prolong rib recovery:

  • Older age, over 65 years old
  • Chronic illnesses like COPD, diabetes, osteoporosis
  • Use of steroids or chemotherapy
  • Multiple rib fractures or lower rib breaks
  • Not adhering to activity restrictions

With proper rest and medical care, uncomplicated rib fractures in younger healthy people typically heal in 3-6 weeks.

When to See a Doctor

Seek medical evaluation for rib injuries with any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing, unable to catch breath
  • Sharp, worsening chest pain
  • Coughing up blood
  • Visible chest deformation or protrusion
  • Symptoms of shock like rapid heart rate, fainting

Call 911 immediately if breathing stops or you suspect a collapsed lung. Visit your doctor promptly for other concerning symptoms.


Let your symptoms guide your rib injury recovery. While recovery takes weeks to months depending on severity, adhering to activity restrictions facilitates proper healing. With patience and care, you can recover fully from rib contusions, fractures, and flail chest.