Costochondritis

What is costochondritis?

Costochondritis is a condition that causes pain in the cartilage that connect your ribs to your sternum (breastbone). Cartilage is the tough, bendable tissue that protects your bones.

What causes costochondritis?

The cause of costochondritis may be unknown, or it may be caused by any of the following:

  • Chest injury: An injury to your chest may cause costochondritis.

  • Strain: Activities that strain your chest wall muscles can lead to costochondritis. This includes hard coughing. Strain can also occur while you are playing sports with repeated arm movements, such as rowing, weightlifting, and volleyball.

  • Infection: Lung or chest infections can increase your risk of costochondritis.

  • Inflammatory diseases: Diseases that cause swelling around your joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis, increase your risk of costochondritis.

What are the signs and symptoms of costochondritis?

Costochondritis causes pain in the area where your sternum joins with your ribs. The pain may come and go, and may get worse over time. The pain may be sharp, or dull and aching. It may be painful to touch your chest. The pain may spread to your back, abdomen, or down your arm. It may get worse when you move, breathe deeply, or push or lift an object. The pain may make it hard for you to sleep or do your usual activities.

How is costochondritis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your signs and symptoms. He will also do a physical exam. He will touch your chest and may move your arms to see if this causes pain.

How is costochondritis treated?

Costochondritis pain may go away without treatment, usually within a year. Your treatment depends on the cause of your costochondritis. You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen: This medicine decreases pain. Acetaminophen is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child's doctor.

What can I do to help decrease the pain caused by costochondritis?

  • Rest: You may need to rest and avoid painful movements and activities. Do not carry objects, such as a purse or backpack, if this causes pain. Avoid activities such as weightlifting until your pain decreases or goes away. Ask your healthcare provider which activities are best for you to do while you recover.

  • Heat: Heat helps decrease pain in some patients. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the painful area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.

  • Stretching exercises: Gentle stretching may help your symptoms. Stand in a doorway and put your hands on the door frame at the level of your ears or shoulders. Take 1 step forward and gently stretch your chest. Try this with your hands higher up on the doorway.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.

  • The painful areas of your chest look swollen, red, and feel warm to the touch.

  • You cannot sleep because of the pain.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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