CUH Logo

Chest injury: Advice sheet for patients:

Patient information A-Z

Chest injury instructions

You have either bruised or broken your ribs. If they are bruised the pain you feel when breathing, coughing or sneezing may last for up to four weeks. If the ribs are broken (cracked or fractured) the pain may last for up to eight weeks. The pain may be severe and painkillers may only be able to soothe it a little, but it is important to use them as instructed and follow the instructions below.

You must go to your nearest emergency department immediately:

  • If you develop a sudden shortness of breath, as this may be due to a collapsed lung.

You must see your GP the same day or if unavailable, go to your nearest emergency department:

  • If you develop a fever, cough, shortness of breath or change in your usual sputum (phlegm), as this may be due to a chest infection.
  • It may be a while before your symptoms start to get better but if any of your symptoms (including pain) are getting worse you need to be seen again.

If you take any medication that thins your blood (such as warfarin)

  • You must make an appointment to see your GP within a few days.

To prevent problems such as chest infection it is important to:

  • Take your painkillers regularly as prescribed by the doctor.
  • If you need to cough, support the chest with gentle pressure (using your hand, a cushion or a towel). This should make it less painful and allow you to clear your chest.
  • It is very important that you remain mobile. Try to get up and move around a little at least every hour.
  • Every hour when awake, carry out the following breathing exercise, take a breath as deeply as possible, hold it, and then let the breath out as far as possible, repeat this five times. It may cause a bout of coughing but will help keep your lungs clear.
  • If you are a smoker try to stop smoking. This will be helpful to you in the long term. However, initially it may result in you producing more and coughing up thicker sputum. Remember to take your painkillers regularly and support the painful area with your hand.

If you feel that your condition is not improving in the timeframe that has been explained to you it is likely that you need to be reassessed.

Please contact your GP if your condition is not improving, or if your condition is worsening please contact your local emergency department.

We are smoke-free

Smoking is not allowed anywhere on the hospital campus. For advice and support in quitting, contact your GP or the free NHS stop smoking helpline on 0800 169 0 169.

Other formats

Help accessing this information in other formats is available. To find out more about the services we provide, please visit our patient information help page (see link below) or telephone 01223 256998.

Contact us

Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151