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Written by Caidr's team of doctors and pharmacists based in UK | Updated: 24.02.2023 | 2 min read

Costochondritis is the cartilage inflammation that connects your ribs to your breast bone (the sternum). Cartilage is a connective tissue that covers the joints and acts as a shock absorber. 

Costochondritis is a type of chest wall pain that has no clear cause. It usually goes away by itself after a few weeks, with simple pain relief and rest. Unfortunately, it can come back. 

What causes costochondritis?

The exact cause of costochondritis is largely unknown, but it can be in response to an infection or an injury to the chest wall. It can also occur from straining, over-exertion from exercise, severe coughing bouts, or wear and tear over time.  

When should I see my doctor?

If you have chest pain, you should discuss it with your doctor. With chest pain, it is important to seek immediate medical attention to rule out the possibility of a heart attack: any symptoms of sweating, shortness of breath, or pain radiating to the arm or jaw are more associated with a heart attack. Pain when pressing the area, moving, and feeling more like muscle pain are more likely to be costochondritis, which is not an emergency. Still, your doctor or emergency department can distinguish between them.

What will my doctor do?

Your doctor will take a history from you and examine your chest area, which is usually tender when pressed or with certain movements. They will consider your medical history and medication. Although there is no specific test to diagnose costochondritis, your doctor may do some tests and investigations (like bloodwork, ECG, and chest x-ray) to rule out serious causes. If these are all normal or all the symptoms clearly point towards costochondritis, then the diagnosis will be made.

How can I help myself?

It is important to try and rest your chest area in order to speed up the recovery process. This may mean taking time away from exercise or from work if your job requires a lot of movement or strenuous lifting. 

You can do simple things at home, like applying heat to soothe the area, and take simple painkillers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to manage the pain and inflammation. 

Suppose simple medication is not helping, or your symptoms persist for several weeks. In that case, your doctor may recommend that you see a physiotherapist for stretching exercises and even a specialist health professional who may consider steroid injections to reduce joint inflammation. 

TENS machines can also be purchased and may work on an individual basis for pain relief. This works by sending a mild electric current to the affected area in an effort to distract pain signals coming from the brain. 

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