Applying ice and taking pain relievers are the primary pain relief methods for broken ribs, according to MedlinePlus. Patients may take over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat pain if it is not severe, but these medications can promote bleeding if patients take them within 24 hours of incurring the injury.
During the first two days following the injury, doctors advise applying ice packs to the painful ribs for 20 minutes each hour when the patient is awake, states MedlinePlus. Thereafter, doctors recommend applying ice packs for 10 to 20 minutes three times a day to treat pain and swelling. Wrapping the ice pack in a cloth prevents injury to the skin.
For severe pain, doctors often prescribe narcotic medications, notes MedlinePlus. Patients must take the prescribed amount of these medications on a prescribed schedule and avoid drinking alcohol, driving or operating heavy machinery while taking such medications. Taking these medications with food prevents nausea. Because narcotics can cause constipation, patients should drink plenty of fluids and consume high-fiber foods.
An individual with broken ribs must engage in deep breathing and gentle coughing exercises every two hours to prevent a collapsed lung or a lung infection from developing, advises MedlinePlus. Taking pain medication prior to doing these exercises helps make these exercises less uncomfortable, as does holding a pillow against the broken ribs while doing the exercises.