Thumbnail image of: Rib Injuries: Illustration

Costochondritis

What is costochondritis?

Costochondritis is pain caused by inflammation of the joint between a rib and the breastbone (sternum) or between the bony part of the rib and the rib cartilage. (Cartilage is a tough rubbery tissue that lines and cushions the surfaces of joints.) If you have swelling as well as pain, the problem is called Tietze’s (“teet-see’s”) syndrome.

What is the cause?

Sometimes costochondritis is caused by:

  • An injury to the chest; for example, from falling or getting hit by something in the chest
  • An infection, such as a cold or flu
  • Overuse of the chest area from new or too much exercise

Often there is no clear cause.

What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of costochondritis is pain or tenderness in the front of the chest near the breastbone. It is usually a sharp pain that gets worse if you press on it or move certain ways (stretching, for instance).

Sometimes the pain may be confused with heart attack pain. See your healthcare provider right away for any chest pain.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. Costochondritis is not a serious condition, but a heart attack is. Most often costochondritis can be diagnosed from your symptoms and the physical exam. If your symptoms, your physical exam, or your medical history increase the likelihood that a problem with your heart could be causing your chest pain, you may need tests for an accurate diagnosis of the problem.

How is it treated?

Costochondritis is treated with anti-inflammatory medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
  • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

How long will the effects last?

The pain of costochondritis usually lasts for a week or two. It does not cause any long-term problems.

How can I help take care of myself?

  • Avoid activities or movements that make the pain worse.
  • Sometimes heat makes the pain better. A heating pad on low can be put on the area for 20 minutes 4 to 8 times a day. (Never lie on a heating pad and trap the heat between your body and the pad. You could get burned.)
  • When the pain is gone, go back to your normal activities slowly.
  • Be sure to stretch and warm up properly before you start any strenuous exercise or activity.
  • Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions. Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent costochondritis?

You can help prevent chest injury by wearing chest protection during activities such as snowmobiling or riding 4-wheelers or dirt bikes.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2013-01-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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