Costochondritis – Chest Wall Pain

Costochondritis is a condition that causes chest pain due to inflammation of the cartilage that connects a rib to the breastbone. It is a common cause of chest pain in children and adolescents and accounts for  10 – 30% of all chest pain in children. Adolescents between the ages of 12 – 14 are the most at risk for developing costochondritis, and the condition is more prevalent among females.

Though rarer, costochondritis can also be seen in adults as well. However, chest pain in adults is considered a potentially serious sign of a heart problem by physicians until proven otherwise. If you are an adult experiencing chest pain, it is important that you seek medical attention and get tested for heart disease. If these tests rule out heart attack and heart disease, then costochondritis could be the culprit. Your doctor will perform further tests to confirm this before making a diagnosis.

Symptoms of Costochondritis

Costochondritis causes localized pain and tenderness in the chest wall that can be reproduced by pressing on the involved cartilage in the front of the rib cage.

Symptoms usually include:

  • Chest pain that arises or worsens after exercise, minor trauma or an upper respiratory infection.
  • Pain in the chests that worsens when taking a deep breath or coughing
  • Pain or tenderness that occurs on the sides of the sternum and may affect more than one rib
  • Chest pain is often sharp and may radiate to the back or abdomen

Causes of Costochondritis

The cause of costochondritis is generally unknown. However, the following events and circumstances are believed to contribute to the development of the condition:

  • Trauma or injury to the chest such as blunt impact from a fall or car accident
  • Physical strain caused by strenuous exercise or heavy lifting
  • Certain types of viruses or respiratory conditions like tuberculosis or syphilis
  • Repetitive motion like sever coughing
  • Tumors in the costosternal joint
  • Severe and persistent coughing
  • Certain types of arthritis

Treatment for Costochondritis

Costochondritis is a relatively harmless musculoskeletal chest pain that will typically resolve on its own over time. Certain home remedies and lifestyle changes can help diminish the pain of costochondritis sooner, including:

  • Over the counter pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Advil or Aleve.
  • Local heat or ice application
  • Avoidance of strenuous activity, such as contact sports, until symptoms improve.

If your symptoms become very severe and you do not see improvement with rest and pain relievers, you may be given a local anesthetic and steroid injection in the area that is painful or tender to provide symptom relief. Infectious (bacterial or fungal) costochondritis will initially be treated with intravenous (IV) antibiotics, and then oral antibiotics for several weeks after.

In rare cases, surgical removal of the affected cartilage may be necessary if there has been no improvement with medical therapy for costochondritis. If this is the case, your physician will refer you to a surgeon for further consult to decide if this is the right option for you.

Request a Pain Management Consultation

If you would like to learn more about treatment for costochondritis and other other pain conditions, please contact the Diagnostic Pain Center today. To schedule an appointment with our Austin pain management providers, please call (512) 981-7246 or click on the appointment request button below to get started.