Although pulled muscles and bruised ribs can be painful, knowing a few ways to tell them apart can help you manage the pain and stay comfortable. Understanding the way you got the injury will also help you avoid irritation or reinjury of the area. Knowing proper treatment will get you back in action as quickly as possible.

A muscle pull occurs when you do something vigorous that tears the muscle fibers. You can pull rib muscles with a particularly hard cough. Although you can tear fibers when you get an impact to the muscle, most of these injuries are a result of yanking or tugging on something. Rib bruises occur with some kind of contact to the rib cage. It is not always a violent contact — you can bruise them leaning out a window and resting your chest on the windowsill, for example.

Muscle pulls are muscle strain injuries. Fibers in the muscles have torn from overexertion. To stabilize the area while you heal, your muscles will tighten into a protective spasm around the injury. This will be accompanied by tenderness and swelling. Pain is increased when you try to stretch the muscle. Bruised ribs should be considered more like a rib fracture. Although the bone isn’t broken, treatment is the same — don’t put pressure on the site of injury. Pain is present even without movement and is worse with breathing, especially deep breathing.

A mild muscle strain will heel in about two to 10 days, a moderate strain, about 10 days to six weeks, and a severe strain can take from 16 days to 10 weeks to fully heal. Scar tissue is formed to stabilize the torn muscle fibers. A rib bruise can take between two and six weeks depending on severity.

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