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Costochondritis Treatments: Chest Pain Relief

Kymberly has had costochondritis since she was14 years old. She has learned from personal experience how to manage the condition.

Important! Treat any chest pain as serious and urgent, and get checked out by a licensed doctor.

It's better to be safe than to ignore chest wall pain in case it's a heart problem!

Note: I am not a doctor. I write from many years of experience, having managed this illness since I was 14 years old.

Sternum and costal joints from Gray's Anatomy.

Sternum and costal joints from Gray's Anatomy.

What is costochondritis?

Costochondritis (costo) is a painful inflammatory condition in which the cartilage and area around the rib cage and sternum is swollen and sore.

It can be a frightening pain—especially when it's on the heart side of the breast bone.

Very little research, other than to report case studies, has been done to examine costochondritis and rib cage pain.[1,2]

Doctors don't understand the causes, which means they can't treat the underlying cause of the condition. The only thing they can treat are the symptoms.

What does costochondritis feel like?

There are two main types of costochondritis pain.

In the background is a dull, throbbing ache around your breast bone and constant low-level rib cage pain. As if there is a tight band around your chest and back.

Certain movements, including deep breaths, coughing and laughing, causes an acute, dreadful sternum pain—like a knife is twisted, or an ice pick is driven into beast bone.

Pressing on and around the sternum, where the inflammation is centered, results in sharp, stabbing pain.

Doctors will run a host of other tests and X-rays to rule out heart disease.

Tietze's syndrome is similar to costochondritis; however the Tietze's syndrome pain also shoots into the shoulder and arm, and the soft tissue of the chest around the breast bone is noticeably swollen.

Tough at school and work

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I've had costo since a combined bout of bronchitis and shingles at age 14.

Triggered by the viral infections, it lingered for many years. I had to stop playing music instruments and tennis, and struggled through the later years at school, university and at work.

Later, rheumatologists and neurologists have suggested the rib cage pain may be a symptom of fibromyalgia.

Most recently, it's been discovered that I have had spondyloarthritis since I was a teenager, and costochondritis is a common symptom.

These days, my symptoms are mostly manageable, and I'm regaining my rusty piano skills. If I forget to stretch, or catch a viral illness, it still flares.

Carrying and setting up a classroom of laptops - a costo flare waiting to happen!

Carrying and setting up a classroom of laptops - a costo flare waiting to happen!

How do you get costochondritis?

Doctors don't know the causes of this debilitating sternum pain. Some people develop it after a virus, such as bronchitis, pneumonia, shingles or chicken pox.

Injuries, surgery, or repeated strain on the chest wall, by unsafe movements, poor posture or even strong coughing can cause costochondritis symptoms.

It may also be caused by another inflammatory condition, such as arthritis especially ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Costochondritis, or non-specific chest wall pain, can affect children and adults, although women are more than twice as likely to develop it than men.

Athletes such as baseball players, golfers and rowers are more prone to develop costochondritis symptoms.

How do doctors treat costo?

Doctors normally prescribe NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve), or anti-inflammatory gels containing diclofenac (Voltaren).

Normal over-the-counter analgesics such as paracetamol (Tylenol) and sometimes anesthetic patches (Lidoderm) are also often used to relieve chest wall pain.

For persistent cases, stronger anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed. These affect the digestive system, and must be taken on a full stomach. There are a number of serious side effects with prolonged anti-inflammatory use.

Local steroid or anesthetic injections are used when NSAID medications don't work.