This chest wall pain, caused by inflammation, usually improves on its own.
Costochondritis (kos-toe-kon-DRY-tis) is an inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone (sternum). Pain caused by costochondritis might mimic that of a heart attack or other heart conditions.
Costochondritis is sometimes known as chest wall pain syndrome, costosternal syndrome or costosternal chondrodynia. Sometimes, swelling accompanies the pain (Tietze syndrome).
What causes costochondritis is unclear. Treatment focuses on easing the pain while waiting for the condition to improve on its own, which can take several weeks or more.
The pain associated with costochondritis usually:
For chest pain, seek emergency medical attention to rule out life-threatening causes such as a heart attack.
Costochondritis usually has no clear cause. However, costochondritis might be associated with trauma, illness or physical strain, such as severe coughing.
Costochondritis occurs most often in women older than 40.
Tietze syndrome usually occurs in teenagers and young adults, and with equal frequency in men and women.
During the physical exam, a health care provider will feel along your breastbone for tenderness or swelling. The provider might also move your rib cage or your arms in certain ways to try to trigger symptoms.
The pain of costochondritis can be similar to the pain associated with heart disease, lung disease, gastrointestinal problems and osteoarthritis. There is no laboratory or imaging test to confirm a diagnosis of costochondritis. But a health care provider might order certain tests, such as an electrocardiogram and chest X-ray, to rule out other conditions.
Costochondritis usually goes away on its own, although it might last for several weeks or longer. Treatment focuses on pain relief.
Your health care provider might recommend:
Physical therapy treatments might include:
If conservative measures don't work, another option is to inject numbing medication and a corticosteroid directly into the painful joint.
It can be frustrating to know that there's little to do to treat costochondritis. But self-care measures, such as the following, might help.
You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the joints (rheumatologist).
Ask a relative or friend to accompany you, to help you remember what the provider says.
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your health care provider is likely to ask you a number of questions, including: