Most rib fractures are mild and heal on their own, but people should see a doctor if they have a sore or painful area in their ribs caused by a traumatic event, such as a car accident, advises Mayo Clinic. Medical help is also necessary if the person is having trouble breathing.
Broken ribs often cause pain while breathing, but it is important that the patient continues to breathe deeply to prevent a lung infection, notes MedlinePlus. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, including acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may be enough to control the pain. Other people may need prescription pain medication for relief.
Other signs that the injured person needs medical assistance include coughing up blood or mucus as well as the development of a fever, according to MedlinePlus. Pain in the shoulder or arm is a sign that the person needs immediate medical attention because it may indicate a heart attack, notes Mayo Clinic. Squeezing pain or a feeling of pressure in the chest are also symptoms of a heart attack.
If these symptoms are not present, it is generally safe to take care of the injury at home. Applying ice packs to the injured area can help relieve pain and swelling, according to MedlinePlus. Remaining active is good, but people with broken ribs may need to avoid strenuous exercise or activities that increase the risk of reinjury.