Broke Your Rib? Here's What You Can Expect in the Next Two Months...

Rib Break X-Ray

I've recently healed from a disastrous bicycle accident earlier this year where I broke a rib and separated my shoulder.

I avoided a hospital visit, an ambulance ride, and a huge cost to deal with my broken rib, but as even Dr. Google will tell you, the only thing you can do to heal a Broken Rib is wait. It takes 6-8 weeks to heal, and as I type this 2 months in, I still have residual pain from the injury. Still, as someone who just experienced it, and discovered a lack of personal anecdotes about injuries like this, I'll give you my experiences and advice:

  1. Get a prescription for a painkiller. While I profess I didn't spend a lot of money on my injury, I certainly saw my Doctor right away, and after a quick diagnosis, I was on my way with some heavy-duty painkillers, much to my immediate pleasure. I took these twice a day for two weeks, then stopped due to the side effects. I then switched to over the counter Tylenol, mostly because it doesn't raise my already high blood pressure.
  2. These same painkillers will also give you serious constipation. This sucks twice as much with a broken rib. Pick up stool softeners, and drink plenty of water (along with Metamucil or Prune Juice). This will make going to the bathroom much easier.
  3. Yes, everything will hurt, and you'll yelp in pain a lot the first few days. It's doesn't take much to set you off, so stay still and away from back-slappers. Thankfully, my neighbors didn't complain about my frequent and loud cursing the first week.
  4. You'll lose weight the first week. It'll hurt to eat or move, and you'll be crippled with pain. I dropped 10 pounds without even noticing. (I gained it back quickly thereafter...)
  5. It shouldn't come as any surprise, but I found I couldn't use any of my usual back muscles, even to lean up or back. I'd constructed a set of ropes to help me pull myself in and out of bed, and this helped, but not much.
  6. The first few weeks, try to avoid coughing or sneezing. It'll happen eventually, and you'll think your chest is going to explode. I've heard that this feeling is residual and lasts the rest of your life, although 8 weeks in and it's a much subtler feeling now.
  7. I used both Heat Wraps and Ice Packs alternately on my aching muscles and body for the first week. They'll help dull the pain and take your focus off the deep injury.
  8. When you sit, you'll always need strong back support for the first month. No more sitting on stools, only backed chairs, and hopefully those that have back supports that are higher than your shoulders.
  9. The first few days, it took hours to get out of bed in the morning. Try not to cripple yourself in a position you can no longer get out of. Try to stay vertical, don't bend over (at all), and you'll learn to stoop down by kneeling while keeping your torso vertical. You'll kill yourself trying to pick up stuff that is slightly out of reach, but too painful to stretch to get. Even rolling out of bed was excruciating.
  10. If you can get one/have one, a recliner will be your best friend for the next few weeks: both for simply resting and also for sleeping. You won't be able to shift around in bed much, and this makes a very comfortable sleeping arrangement. I changed to sleeping in a recliner that I could raise or lower using my arms, and not my waist, and ended up using it as a makeshift bed for about 3 weeks.
  11. You'll be tired. It was two weeks before I slept all the way through the night. As I wasn't expending a lot of energy, this was acceptable, but overall annoying.
  12. It was a month before I could sleep on my (good) side - the side opposite the injury.
  13. It was six weeks before I could sneeze without thinking my chest would explode.
  14. It was a two months before I could sleep on the (bad) side I broke the rib.
  15. I'm ever thankful for my friends and family who assisted me in the first weeks, bringing food, lifting heavy items, and other tasks. While I didn't require 24-hour care, even someone stopping by every few days was a huge help.
  16. Don't tell your parents about your injury until weeks after if you can. It'll save them worrying about you, and doting on you like a baby.

I'm unfortunately not going to speak about the longer (and more expensive) healing from my shoulder separation, but these tips will hopefully comfort a recent victim of a common Rib bone break.

Addenum: Recently visited with an orthopeadic surgeon and he diagnosed my injury as torn coracoclavicular and acromioclavicular ligaments, forcing my acromion (shoulder blade) bone to dislodge and hang. While odd looking, it hasn't affected my life or given me any pain, so I'll leave it be for now.