Menu

Best Exercises for Broken Ribs Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 10, 2020

Your ribs are designed to protect your chest cavity from impact, but sometimes they can crack or fracture from blunt force. This direct impact might come from car accidents, contact sports, or slips and falls. A rib fracture might even come from repetitive chest trauma. 

In some people, especially in older populations, the ribs are more prone to fracture from severe coughing, cancerous lesions, osteoporosis, or certain cardiopulmonary (heart and lung) diseases.

Broken ribs can be extremely painful, but unlike other broken bones, the ribs cannot be encased in a cast and are generally left to heal naturally. Although your recovery could take six to eight weeks, you still need some type of physical activity to stay healthy while you heal. 

Exercises to Help Broken Ribs Recovery

Exercise for broken ribs recovery is a delicate balance. Your condition is quite painful, so you need to keep exercise gentle and allow for plenty of rest. On the other hand, you need to stay active over the next several weeks to reduce your risks for pneumonia and other chest infections, blood clots, or muscle weakness.

Gentle exercise for broken ribs can also help to clear your mind and prevent depression or anxiety from developing.

Breathing exercises are the main type of rehab, but chest-stretching exercises for broken ribs are effective as well. Each type should be done slowly and gently, with a gradual increase as you heal.

It's important to remember that you shouldn't start an exercise routine for broken ribs recovery until your doctor says it's safe to proceed. For the initial post-injury recovery, focus on rest. You need to rest to best manage the pain and inflammation and let your ribs begin to mend. 

Deep Breathing

This is one of the first exercises you should do when you're given the green light from your doctor. Deep breathing helps you to clear the mucus from your lungs to prevent chest infections or a collapsed lung.

Step 1: Sit upright in a chair and place your hands over your fractured rib area. You can also hold a pillow to your chest for support.

Step 2: Take a deep breath, and slowly and gently fill your lungs. 

Step 3: Hold your breath for about 10 seconds.

Step 4: Exhale slowly.

Step 5: Cough gently to help loosen mucus.

You can repeat this process five times, every two hours as comfort allows.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Also known as belly breathing, diaphragmatic breathing helps to pass air to the furthest extent of your lungs and prevent trapped air from causing issues.

Step 1: Sit upright in a chair and place one hand on your upper chest and the other on your abdomen.

Step 2: Inhale slowly and focus on pushing your stomach into your hand. Try to make sure your upper hand remains motionless. 

Step 3: Tighten your stomach muscles as you exhale slowly.

You can repeat this exercise five to 10 times, for three to four sequences a day. 

Bucket Handle Breathing

Another breathing exercise for broken ribs, bucket handle breathing gently works the sides of your ribs to encourage motion for all angles.

Step 1: Sitting upright in a chair, place your hands on your sides. This is where your lower rib cage is located.

Step 2: Inhale slowly, breathing so your sides push into your hands.

Step 3: Hold for 10 seconds and exhale slowly.

Repeat this breathing exercise five to 10 times, for roughly three to four sessions each day.

Chest Stretches

As you heal your broken ribs, you can move into chest stretches that help to work the muscles across your chest.

Step 1: Sit upright in a chair and lift your arms, bending your elbows to 90 degrees. Alternately, you can try to raise your arms and interlock your fingers.

Step 2: Gently squeeze your shoulder blades toward one another.

Step 3: Hold for five to 10 seconds and release.

Step 4: Return your arms to their original position.

You can repeat this chest stretch five to 10 times, for two to three sessions a day.

Safety Considerations

Broken ribs don't heal overnight, so it's important to not overexert yourself. While you may feel some pain completing the exercises, you should stop if the pain increases. Contact your doctor immediately if you experience colored or bloody mucus, fever, or shortness of breath. 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Council on Exercise: “5 Chest Stretch Variations.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Diaphragmatic Breathing.”

The Manual Touch Physical Therapy: “Physical Therapy for Rib Pain.”

Mayo Clinic: “Broken ribs.”

Mayo Clinic: “Helping elderly patients with rib fractures avoid serious respiratory complications.”

Mount Sinai: “Rib fracture - aftercare.”

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust: “Rib injury advice.”

Vancouver Coastal Health: “Managing a Rib Fracture: A Patient Guide.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.