Often, there is no apparent cause of costochondritis.
- A chest injury.
- Rigorous exercise or heavy lifting.
- Certain viral infections, such as respiratory infections.
- Strain from violent or long-term coughing.
- Infections such as those following surgery or from intravenous (IV) drug use.
- Certain types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Bacterial infections such as tuberculosis.
- Fungal infections such as aspergillosis.
- Certain tumors.
What is costochondritis?
You have 12 pairs of ribs in your chest forming the ribcage. All these ribs except the lowest two are connected to your breastbone (sternum) through the cartilage (a tough but flexible tissue that cushions the bones). Inflammation of these cartilages is called costochondritis. Costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain. The condition is also known as costosternal syndrome, parasternal chondrodynia, or anterior chest wall syndrome. It is a self-limiting condition but needs to be differentiated from more serious causes of chest pain such as a heart attack.
What are the symptoms of costochondritis?
Costochondritis often presents with a sudden onset chest pain along with tenderness.
The typical symptoms of costochondritis include:
- Sharp pain at the front of the chest
- Pain may move or radiate to the back or stomach
- Pain is increased on coughing or taking deep breaths
- Presence of tenderness on pressing the area where the rib joins the breastbone
- Pain is reduced when you stop moving or breathe quietly
- Pain is increased on activity
Although the pain of costochondritis goes away on its own, you must seek immediate medical care because chest pain could be due to more serious conditions such as a heart attack.
What is the treatment for costochondritis?
Costochondritis is a self-limiting condition. It usually goes away on its own within a few days or weeks. In some people, costochondritis may last for a few months.
Treatment for costochondritis is mainly targeted toward relieving the pain. It includes:
- You must apply hot or cold compresses to the affected site many times a day.
- You must avoid activities that may put pressure on your chest such as strenuous exercise or even simple tasks such as reaching up to a high shelf.
- Over-the-counter pain medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help to reduce the pain and swelling. You must consult with your healthcare provider before taking these medications if you have long-term conditions such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, liver disease, kidney disease, stomach ulcers, or a history of internal bleeding in the past.
- Medications should be taken as advised by the healthcare provider and as per the label instructions.
- If your healthcare provider permits, you may take Tylenol (acetaminophen). It, however, shouldn’t be taken by people who have liver disease. Other medications are narcotics or even anti-epilepsy medicines.
- If the pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicines such as steroid injections.
- Your healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy including mild stretching exercises.
- TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation may help relieve the pain. It is a pain-relieving method in which a mild electric current is delivered to the affected area using a small battery-operated device.