Q. I’ve winded myself, could I have damaged my ribs?

A. If you have hurt your chest area, you may have bruised or broken a rib. Its usually caused by a fall, a blow to the chest or severe coughing.

Symptoms include: strong pain in your chest area, particularly when you breathe in; swelling or tenderness around the affected ribs; sometimes bruising on the skin and feeling or hearing a crack if it's a broken rib.

Ribs can't be easily splinted or supported like other bones, so they're usually left to heal naturally. There's often no need for an X-ray.

You can help yourself, however, and they usually get better in three to six weeks. There are some things you can do to help ease pain and speed up healing:

• Take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, but don’t take ibuprofen for 48 hours after your injury as it may slow down healing

• Hold an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas in a tea towel) to the affected ribs regularly in the first few days to reduce swelling

• Rest when you are able

• Breathe normally and cough when you need to – this helps clear mucus from your lungs to prevent chest infections

• If you need to cough, hold a pillow against your chest

• Walk around and sometimes move your shoulders to help you breathe

• Take 10 slow, deep breaths every hour to help clear your lungs

• sleep more upright for the first few nights

If it hasn’t improved in six weeks seek medical attention.

Q. I’ve bruised myself, should I see my GP?

A. Bruises are bluish or purple-coloured patches that appear on the skin when tiny blood vessels called capillaries break or burst underneath.

The blood from the capillaries leaks into the soft tissue under your skin, causing the discolouration. Over time, this fades through shades of yellow or green, usually after around two weeks.

Bruises often feel tender or swollen at first.

You can still bruise if you've got dark skin, but they may show up more on fair skin.

Bruising is caused by internal bleeding under the skin, and occurs when a person has injured themselves.

Some people are naturally more likely to bruise than others – for example, elderly people may bruise more easily because their skin is thinner and the tissue underneath is more fragile.

Treat bruises on your skin by limiting the bleeding. You can do this by cooling the area with a cold compress (a flannel or cloth soaked in cold water) or an ice pack wrapped in a towel.

To make an ice pack, place ice cubes or a packet of frozen vegetables in a plastic bag and wrap them in a towel. Hold this over the area for at least 10 minutes. Do not put the ice pack straight on to your skin as this will be too cold and could hurt.

Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help relieve the pain associated with bruising.

Most bruises will disappear after around two weeks.