What is Costochondritis? Understanding Inflammation of the Rib Joints

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Inflammation of the Costosternal Joint

What is costochondritis? Characterized by a pain and tenderness in the chest, costochondritis is a condition in which inflammation occurs where the ribs and the sternum connect. It may have a direct cause but also occurs for no explainable reason. This inflammatory joint condition may be confused with chest pain from other more serious health problems such as heart disease or acid reflux. While often harmless and easy to relieve with pain medication or heat therapy, if symptoms are serious or are in any way indicative of a heart attack, it is important to see your doctor right away.


Costochondritis causes pain and tenderness, usually in the front of the chest (it feels like the pain is from the breastbone, not from deeper within) and usually in a concentrated area. The sensation can radiate to the back or abdomen and is most common on the left side. Costochondritis usually is characterized by a sharp pain, although a dull, gnawing ache is also possible. Other characteristics include an increase in pain from coughing, deep breaths and movement. Pressing on the rib joints you can feel the pain from the inflammation.


What causes costochondritis? There is not always an identifiable cause, although there are common trends that appear to be linked to inflamed and tender rib joints. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and infection. An injury to the chest area, heavy lifting and strenuous exercise are all linked to costochondritis. A viral or bacterial infection of the respiratory tract can lead to inflammation of the costosternal joints as well. People who suffer from fibromyalgia may experience recurring costochondritis.

It is also possible for costochondritis to occur with no known or discernible cause. From 10 to 30 percent of cases of chest pain in children, particularly between the ages of 12 to 14, are diagnosed as costochondritis. While many incidences of chest pan and tenderness in adults may simply be this inflammatory joint condition, it is important to be examined by a medical professional to rule out heart disease.


Once diagnosed with costochondritis you can rule out the other more serious health conditions that require more medical care. Inflammation of the rib joints in of itself is not dangerous and will go away on its own. Sometimes lasting for a few days you may be fine with simply applying a heating pad to your breastbone to relieve the pain. In cases where the pain lasts for a long period of time, weeks or months, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking medications for the pain. Over the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or prescription muscle relaxants can be used. Avoid heavy lifting, strenuous activity and anything that increases the pain, but at the same time be sure to get some gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or biking.

Exactly what is costochondritis? Do you have this condition? Costochondritis is one of the possible causes of chest pain. It is more common amongst women than men and may even be the reason for chest pain in children. Because it can be easily confused with other health conditions, especially heart problems, see your doctor for a diagnosis and seek emergency medical care right away if there is any chance the pain you are feeling could be a sign of a heart attack.


WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/costochondritis

Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/costochondritis/DS00626