Costochondritis Relief: Effective Treatment Options

What Is Costochondritis?


If you have ever heard the term costochondritis you may wonder what it is. It is Inflammation of the tissue that connects your ribs to your sternum (also known as your breastbone).   The cartilage that that forms the connection between your ribs and sternum is the particular tissue that becomes irritated with this type of diagnosis.  It is also known as costosternal syndrome, parasternal chondrodynia, or anterior chest wall syndrome.   


Distinguishing costochondritis from other chest pain conditions, such as heart-related issues or gastrointestinal problems, is critical. While costochondritis is not a dangerous condition, it can still cause substantial discomfort and interfere with daily activities.

If you have persistent chest pain or are uncertain about your symptoms' cause, we always recommend consulting a healthcare professional for a precise diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Understanding Costochondritis

Costochondritis is a medical condition causing inflammation in the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone. This inflammation often results in chest pain, which can be worrisome for those experiencing it. This condition is fairly common and can affect people of all ages.

In this article, we will discuss what costochondritis is, what causes it, how it's diagnosed, and treatment options. Our goal is to help you comprehend this condition and provide you with the information you need to manage your symptoms effectively.

Here at joionline.net, we put our visitors' well-being first. While we may refer to our products and services in this article, our primary focus is to deliver helpful and informative content about costochondritis.

X-ray of costochondritis in-between the human breastbone and ribcage in the costal cartilage. JOI RehabX-Ray image of the human body showing the costal cartilage where Costochondritis occurs.

What is the difference in Tietze and Costochondritis?

It is common to confuse costochondritis with Tietze syndrome, which is a rarer condition involving the swelling of a single costal cartilage.   The main differential between Tietze and costochondritis, is the former being associated with a single level versus the latter with multiple levels.   Tietze is also commonly associated with more serious conditions involving the heart, lungs, or neoplasms.

Diagnosing Costochondritis

Diagnosing costochondritis involves a thorough evaluation of the patient's symptoms, medical history, and a physical examination. Healthcare professionals use various methods to accurately diagnose this condition.

A key factor in diagnosing costochondritis is recognizing its signs and symptoms. These include sharp chest pain, tenderness around the affected area, and discomfort that intensifies with movement or deep breathing. The pain is typically localized to the front of the chest and can sometimes spread to the back or abdomen.

During the physical examination, healthcare professionals will examine the chest wall to identify areas of tenderness or inflammation. They may also assess the range of motion in the chest to determine if certain movements exacerbate the pain.

Besides the physical examination, diagnostic tests and imaging techniques may be used to confirm the diagnosis. These tests can help exclude other potential causes of chest pain and provide further evidence of costochondritis. Common diagnostic tests include blood tests to check for signs of inflammation, and imaging techniques such as X-rays, CT scans, or MRI scans to visualize the chest wall and rule out other conditions.


Causes of Costochondritis

Costochondritis is characterized by inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the sternum. While the exact cause is often unknown, several potential causes and risk factors may contribute to its development.

Physical strain or injury to the chest area is a common factor linked to costochondritis. Activities such as heavy lifting, repetitive motions, or sudden movements can strain the chest muscles and put pressure on the cartilage, leading to inflammation. Trauma from a direct hit to the chest, like a fall or car accident, can also cause costochondritis.

There are also underlying medical conditions that may increase the risk of developing costochondritis. Conditions such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, respiratory infections, and chest wall infections can all lead to inflammation of the cartilage. In some cases, viral or bacterial infections may directly affect the cartilage, resulting in costochondritis.

It's worth noting that costochondritis can occur without any obvious cause or underlying medical condition. This is known as idiopathic costochondritis, and while the exact reason is unclear, it is believed to be related to the body's immune response or a disruption in the normal function of the cartilage.

If you're experiencing symptoms of costochondritis, we recommend consulting a healthcare professional for a precise diagnosis and suitable treatment options.

Typically, there are no direct associated causes for costochondritis.  However, it can be related to chest wall trauma or chest muscle strain.  Costochondritis is reported in adolescents to adults, with those above age 35 typically receiving follow-on assessments to rule out cardiac sources.    

There can be some association of costochondritis being caused with some sports and scoliosis.  Especially with sports like tennis, baseball, softball which have upper extremity repetitive motions.


Symptoms Of Costochondritis

The associated symptoms mimic other more critical diagnoses, such as cardiovascular or gastrointestinal abnormalities.  Typical reports for costochondritis include sharp, pressure-like, or achy.  Lifting, pushing, or breathing deeply can and usually does increase the pain.  Costochondritis is a diagnosis of exclusion, as other maladies are ruled out costochondritis will be ruled in as the source/cause of pain.   During a physical examination, palpation of the costosternal joints will illicit pain.  Typically, the second to fifth joints are the source of pain and most often it is unilateral.  

People with costochondritis often endure sharp, stabbing chest pain. This pain may be concentrated or spread to the back or abdomen. In some cases, the symptoms can resemble those of a heart attack or other serious conditions, leading to anxiety and distress.

Typical symptoms of costochondritis include swelling and tenderness in the affected area, discomfort when breathing or coughing, and increased pain with movement or physical activity. The pain may intensify with deep breaths or when pressure is applied to the chest.

Treatment Of Costochondritis

Various treatment options can manage costochondritis. The treatment goal is to alleviate symptoms, reduce pain, and enhance the overall quality of life. Here are some options that can help:

1. Self-care measures and home remedies: Simple self-care measures can often provide relief from costochondritis symptoms. Applying heat or cold packs to the affected area can help reduce inflammation and ease pain. Resting and avoiding activities that exacerbate the pain can also be beneficial. Additionally, practicing good posture and using supportive cushions or pillows can help reduce strain on the chest.

2. Over-the-counter pain medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium, can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation associated with costochondritis. It's important to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists or worsens.

3. Physical therapy: In some cases, physical therapy may be recommended to strengthen the muscles around the affected area, improve posture, and promote better movement. A physical therapist can provide specific exercises and techniques to help manage symptoms and prevent future flare-ups.

4. Prescription medications: If over-the-counter pain relievers are not effective, a healthcare professional may prescribe stronger pain medications, such as muscle relaxants or opioids, for short-term pain relief. However, these medications can have side effects and should be used under medical supervision.

5. Injections: In certain situations, corticosteroid injections may be administered directly into the affected area to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief. This procedure is typically performed by a healthcare professional and can offer significant relief for some individuals.

It's important to consult a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific case of costochondritis. They can provide personalized recommendations based on your symptoms, medical history, and overall health.

Time and simple pain-relieving modalities are the typical treatments for costochondritis.  Typically, the pain subsides in several days to couple of weeks but can persist for several months in chronic cases.  When associated with a particular trauma or muscle strain, rest and ice along with reduction of the aggravating factors will allow recovery.  If the pain does not subside, after being cleared for other more serious conditions, seek further guidance from your primary care physician.

Image of a male holding his chest in the areas where costochondritis symptoms may occurCostochondritis may cause pain in different areas of the chest and can be multi-level.

Can Physical Therapy Help If I Have Costochondritis?

Pain-relieving modalities and rest are not the only thing that can help if you are suffering from costochondritis. Physical Therapy can certainly help as well.  If you see a Physical Therapist for treatment for costochondritis, they may focus on several different things. With costochondritis one tends to be restricted or lack rib mobility or thoracic spine mobility. Because of this, your therapist may perform rib mobilizations and thoracic spine mobilizations to aid in getting things moving. Many times to scapular muscles and postural muscles tend to be weak. In such instances your therapist may also focus on scapula-thoracic strengthening to aid in postural control.  

By: Kenneth Goodin, DPT, CSCS

Read these articles about proper sitting posture and postural awareness as they may help you if you are suffering from costochondritis. 

For more content from The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute subscribe to our YouTube Channel !

Book an Appointment with The Jacksonville Orthopaedic Institute Today!

JOI Physicians are accepting new patients at all of our 5 area locations.  Please follow the link below to select your JOI MD and schedule online.  We have made the process of scheduling online a great option for you as a patient. 

You can still call 904-JOI-2000 to make new patient JOI Physician Appointments if that is your preference.

To make appointments with JOI Rehab, please call 904-858-7045.



Skip to content