Pain in the chest is a common complaint that has many causes, ranging from mild causes such as muscle…
- Costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain. It is caused by inflammation of the joints in the rib cage.
- The symptoms of costochondritis include sharp chest pain, which feels worse when coughing, sneezing or breathing heavily, and tenderness or soreness of the rib cage.
- The pain caused by costochondritis usually goes away within a few days or weeks.
What is costochondritis?
Your ribcage is an arrangement of bones and cartilage that protects the inner organs in your chest and helps the lungs to function. The cartilage connects the bones to each other; it is more flexible than bone, and that flexibility allows the ribcage to expand and contract so that you can breathe, cough or sneeze.
Costochondritis is pain caused by inflammation of the joints in the rib cage where the cartilage connects to rib bones or to the breastbone (sternum). It is a common cause of chest pain.
Causes and risk factors
Muscle overuse and strain
Repetitive, strenuous exercise or work can lead to muscle over-use and strain the rib joints. Repetitive coughing can also strain these joints.
Vitamin D deficiency
Low levels of vitamin D can cause the costochondral junctions in the rib to grow, and this can potentially cause costochondritis.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of costochondritis include:
- Sharp chest pain, which feels worse when coughing, sneezing or breathing heavily, and;
- Tenderness or swelling in the joints between the cartilage and rib or breastbone.
Methods for diagnosis
Your doctor may diagnose costochondritis by asking about your symptoms and performing a physical exam. They may gently press on your rib joints to see whether you feel pain or tenderness in that spot.
Tests to rule out other causes
An X-ray of the chest may be used if the diagnosis is uncertain.
Electrocardiography (ECG) uses electrodes attached to your chest to check your heart rhythm. If you are at risk of heart disease, you may undergo electrocardiography to rule out heart attack as a cause of your chest pain.
Computerised tomography (CT) scan
This scan is usually done when other causes, such as infection or tumours, are suspected as the cause of your chest pain.
Vitamin D test
Vitamin D levels can be checked using a blood test.
Types of treatment
Treatment for costochondritis focuses on pain relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, are used to reduce inflammation and the pain associated with it. In rare instances, a combined injection of a local anaesthetic and corticosteroid are used to reduce pain and inflammation.
If the cause of the pain is muscle overuse and strain, physical therapy, heat pads and minimising the intensity and frequency of exercise or work can reduce pain.
The pain caused by costochondritis usually goes away in a few days or weeks. Because your chest moves whenever you breathe, cough or sneeze, recovery can be slow, and your condition can sometimes get worse before it gets better.
There is no way to prevent costochondritis. It occurs at any age and without warning.