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Costochondritis

Chest wall pain; Costosternal syndrome; Costosternal chondrodynia; Chest pain - costochondritis

All but your lowest 2 ribs are connected to your breastbone by cartilage. This cartilage can become inflamed and cause pain. This condition is called costochondritis. It is a common cause of chest pain.

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Ribs and lung anatomy

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Causes

There is often no known cause of costochondritis. But it may be caused by:

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of costochondritis are pain and tenderness in the chest. You may feel:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam. The area where the ribs meet the breastbone is checked. If this area is tender and sore, costochondritis is the most likely cause of your chest pain.

A chest x-ray may be done if your symptoms are severe or do not improve with treatment.

Your provider may also order tests to rule out other conditions, such as a heart attack.

Treatment

Costochondritis most often goes away on its own in a few days or weeks. It can also take up to a few months. Treatment focuses on relieving the pain.

Pain medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), may help to ease pain and swelling. You can buy these without a prescription.

You may also take acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead, if your provider tells you it is safe to do so. People with liver disease should not take this medicine.

If your pain is severe, your provider may prescribe stronger pain medicine.

In some cases, your provider may recommend physical therapy.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Costochondritis pain often goes away in a few days or weeks.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call 911 or the local emergency number, or go to your local emergency room right away if you have chest pain. The pain of costochondritis can be similar to the pain of a heart attack.

If you have already been diagnosed with costochondritis, call your provider if you have any of the following symptoms:

Prevention

Because the cause is often unknown, there is no known way to prevent costochondritis.

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References

Crasto JA, Vaswani RS, Pauyo T, Musahl V. Overview of sport-specific injuries. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR. eds. DeLee, Drez, & Miller's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 9.

Hanak JA. Tietze syndrome. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 117.

Kurz J. Costosternal syndrome. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr, eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Musculoskeletal Disorders, Pain, and Rehabilitation. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 101.

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Review Date: 10/10/2020  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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