The ribs are a cage that protect the heart and lungs. There are 12 ribs and they join the vertebrae in the back. When you breath you can feel the movement of your ribs expanding to let in air.
You can break a rib or have a stress fracture which is a crack in the rib, but cracks in the ribs are not usually treated these days as they will heal themselves within about 3 weeks. The upper 4 ribs are rarely fractured as these are well protected, it is the lower ones that usually result in injury. It is not usual to have a bruised rib cage. The muscles between your ribs can be strained but there is not usually pain for this alone. The pain you may feel is because the muscle strain is linked to the rib bones that have been damaged.
Rib injuries covers whatever is wrong in the rib area. For example the bruising of ribs or surrounding muscles. Broken ribs or fractured ribs are usually the result of a direct blow, although a stress fracture can be caused by for example, a violent muscle contraction in a golf swing or baseball throw.
There may be swelling or discoloration over the damaged area, and it might be possible to see a slight deformity. There will be pain in the rib cage over the injured rib(s) and breathing may be slightly uncomfortable.
If the rib(s) have suffered only a slight fracture treatment is not usually necessary as they will heal themselves within about 3 weeks, but it is advisable to seek medical advice. If breathing is uncomfortable and does not improve for example when taking deep breathes, check with your doctor for advice. Pain killers are helpful to make breathing or coughing more comfortable.
Before you re-start your sport you need to make sure that you rib cage is fully flexible. Stretching you arms above your head and to the sides, leaning backwards and twisting gently from side to side with your arms outstretched will help to achieve full movement. This will lower the risk of further injury. There are also protective vests that can be worn to prevent further injury made from a canvas rib material.
Always consult your Doctor before performing any exercise or treatment. All information on the common sports injuries web site is provided as general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment of any sports injury.