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Costochondritis

Whakawaikuratanga o te rara

Costochondritis showing the inflamed costal cartilage, which joins your ribs to your breastboneCostochondritis (cos-toe-kon-dry-tis) is an inflammation of the front part of your rib cage. This is the part that connects your ribs to your breastbone (sternum) and is called the costal cartilage. It's a common cause of chest pain.

There is no clear cause for costochondritis, but it can happen after an injury, heavy lifting, severe coughing (such as when you have a chest infection) or with arthritis.

The symptoms of costochondritis include pain around your breastbone, pain that gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough and tenderness in your ribs and chest muscles.

Although costochondritis is not harmful, it can be worrying as the pain can be severe and can feel like the signs of a heart attack or other heart and lung condition. If you have chest pain, it's essential that you see a doctor even if you think you have costochondritis as chest pain can be a sign of something more serious.

Important

If you're worried that you may be having a heart attack, you should call 111 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Diagnosing costochondritis

Usually, if your doctor thinks you have costochondritis, you will not need any tests. But they may ask you to have a heart tracing (ECG), chest X-ray or blood tests to rule out other things that may be causing your chest pain.

Treating costochondritis

Costochondritis usually goes away on its own after about four to six weeks and seldom comes back.

If the pain is severe or lasts a long time, your doctor may give you an anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen.

Physiotherapy may also help.

Stretching to help costochondritis

This video shows a stretch for your pectoral (chest) muscles that can help costochondritis. You can do it in a doorway as the video shows, or against a wall.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.

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