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Costochondritis and Stress: Is There a Connection?

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 11/30/2009

Costochondritis and stress are often related, because stress can cause inflammation. Learn about costochondritis and how stress can contribute to the condition in this article.

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    Costochondritis is an inflammation of the ribs or the cartilage that connects one rib to another. This condition is also known as chest wall pain. While uncomfortable, this condition is not life-threatening.

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    Causes

    It is usually difficult to determine what is causing this condition. Most medical professionals attribute the development of costochondritis to overuse or minor trauma to the chest area. This means that repetitive damage is occurring in the ribs or rib cartilage. Another cause of this condition is traumatic injury to the chest wall. This can occur during a car accident, especially if the airbag opens or the driver is injured by hitting the steering wheel. Respiratory infections can also cause chest wall inflammation.

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    Signs & Symptoms

    Costochondritis and stress are also linked together, as stress can cause or worsen pain in all areas of the body. If you suspect that your costochondritis and stress are related, you can try relaxation and meditation exercises to reduce stress and ease the symptoms of this condition.

    Pain on the front of the chest is the most common symptom of this condition. Do not assume that chest pain is caused by costochondritis. Because serious heart and lung conditions can also cause chest pain, it is important to seek medical advice to rule out more serious causes of pain. When the pain occurs, it usually gets worse with exertion. Breathing deeply causes the cartilage to stretch, which can also worsen the pain. Nerves may carry the pain of costochondritis from the chest to the arms or shoulders.

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    Diagnosis

    This condition can be diagnosed with a physical examination by a qualified medical professional. Pressing on the upper chest will yield pain in cases of costochondritis. Some swelling can also be detected during an exam.

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    Treatment

    For cases of costochondritis caused by overuse, rest is useful in easing the symptoms of this condition. Since exercise can strain the chest muscles and make pain worse, you should limit your activities during flareups. Applying heat to the affected area can also relieve symptoms like pain and swelling. Put a piece of cloth in between a heating pad and the skin to get relief without burning the delicate skin on the chest. Over the counter anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken to ease pain and decrease inflammation. Because anti-inflammatory drugs can increase the risk of GI bleeding and cause other side effects, consult your doctor before taking these medications.