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HealthInfo Canterbury

Costochondritis

Costochondritis (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 it's called the costal cartilage. It is a common cause of chest pain.

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 conditions. If you have chest pain it is essential you see a doctor even if you think you have costochondritis, as chest pain is often a sign of something more serious.

Important!

If you are worried you may be having a heart attack you should call 111 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

What are the symptoms of costochondritis?

Costochondritis showing the inflamed costal cartilage, which joins your ribs to your breastboneThe 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.

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.

How is costochondritis treated?

Usually if your doctor thinks you have costochondritis you won't need any tests. However, 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.

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

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

Occasionally a person with costochondritis may need stronger pain relief, such as codeine. 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. September 2016.

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