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Chest Wall Pain in Children

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What do I need to know about chest wall pain in children?

Chest wall pain may be caused by problems with the muscles, cartilage, or bones of the chest wall. The pain may be aching, severe, dull, or sharp. It may come and go, or it may be constant. The pain may be worse when your child moves in certain ways, breathes deeply, or coughs.

What causes chest wall pain?

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

  • Conditions that affect the bones, joints, or cartilage of the chest wall, such as arthritis or costochondritis
  • Strain or injury of the chest wall muscles caused by a severe cough or intense physical activity
  • Fracture of the ribs or sternum (breastbone)

How is chest wall pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask questions about your child's pain. He or she will ask when the pain started, what type of pain it is, and if there are things that make it better or worse. He or she will also ask if your child has other symptoms. He or she will examine your child's chest. He or she may also ask your child to move his or her arms in different directions to see how it affects the pain. Chest x-rays may be done to find the cause of your child's chest wall pain.

How is chest wall pain treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your child's chest wall pain. He or she may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If your child takes blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for him or her. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children younger than 6 months without direction from a healthcare provider.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to give your child and how often to give it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines your child uses to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your child's doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Apply heat on your child's chest for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Apply ice on your child's chest for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child has severe pain.
  • Your child has shortness of breath.
  • Your child has palpitations (fast, forceful heartbeats in an irregular rhythm).
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child's pain does not improve, even with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. 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.

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