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Chest Wall Pain

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about chest wall pain?

Chest wall pain may be caused by problems with the muscles, cartilage, or bones of the chest wall. Chest wall pain may also be caused by pain that spreads to your chest from another part of your body. 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 you move in certain ways, breathe deeply, or cough.

What causes chest wall pain?

  • Conditions that affect the joints or cartilage of the chest wall, such as arthritis or costochondritis
  • Strain or injury of the chest wall muscles
  • Fractures of the ribs or vertebrae (bones in your spine)
  • Herniation of the discs in the upper or middle section of your spine
  • Shingles

How is chest wall pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you to describe your pain. Tell your provider when the pain started, what type of pain it is, and what makes it better or worse. Your provider will also ask if you have any other symptoms. Your provider will examine your chest. Your provider may also ask you to move your arms in different directions to see how it affects your pain. Ask your provider about these and other tests you may need:

  • A chest x-ray may show the cause of your chest wall pain. You may need more than one x-ray.
  • An MRI takes pictures of your chest or spine to show the cause of your chest wall pain. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell a healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell a healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is chest wall pain treated?

Treatment depends on the cause of your chest wall pain. You 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 you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain. It 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.
  • A cream may be applied to your chest to decrease pain.
  • Apply heat on your 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 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.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • You may also have any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You develop a rash.
  • You have other new symptoms.
  • Your pain does not improve, even with treatment.
  • 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 healthcare providers 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.

© Copyright Merative 2023 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

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Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.