Costochondritis — Definition, Common Causes and Treatment

Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage which connects ribs to the sternum (breastbone). This condition is also known as costosternal syndrome, chest wall pain or costosternal chondrodynia.

Costochondritis will usually go away on its own relatively fast, but it can also last for several months. This is why, identifying its most common symptoms and causes, is vital in an effort to keep the condition under control and relieve the pain.

Most Common Causes Of Costochondritis
As surprising as it may seem, the exact cause of this condition is not always clear. But, there are certain causes which may lead to it:
• Physical strain — physical strain is one of the most common reasons (in addition to injury) for, not only costochondritis, but sternum pain in general
• Injury — second most common contributing cause to costochondritis is injury. Usually, this is a direct blow to the front of the chest, which can cause sternum bruising, hairline fractures, xiphoid process pain and more
• Infections — different types of infections can also lead to this condition:
o Bacterial — usually happens after surgeries
o Viral — from viral respiratory infections
o Fungal — extremely rare but can some occur
• Recreational drug use
• Arthritis or
• Tumors

Signs and Symptoms
Costochondritis is not a condition you will be able to diagnose yourself, you will need to visit a medical professional. But, there are some telltale signs you can look for:

Tenderness
This is the most common sign a patient is suffering from costochondritis. If this symptom is absent, CC is unlikely to be diagnosed. The tenderness will be felt when pressing on sternum and joints between sternum and ribs.

Chest pain
Of course, chest pain is not exclusively linked to this condition, but has to be present. The pain is usually felt on the left side of the sternum, is sharp and worsens when you take deep breaths. It is commonly localized at the height of the fourth, fifth and sixth rib.

Diagnosing It
As previously stated, it is not advised to engage in self-diagnosis — if you suspect costochondritis, you should visit a doctor to get a physical examination.

Firstly, the doctor will feel along the sternum, looking for signs of swelling, changes in color, localized increased temperature, tenderness and pain.
You might think an X-ray and MRI will be helpful, but they are only used to rule out other causes of chest pain — they are not particularly helpful in diagnosing CC. Other common conditions which can cause chest pain are heart or lung conditions, gastrointestinal problems or arthritis.

How To Treat It?
Costochondritis will usually go away on its own in a matter of weeks/months, so treatment is usually geared to dealing with the symptoms — relieving pain.

There are two main ways to deal with the symptoms: use medication or engage in physical therapy (most often combine the two).

Medication
You must not take medication yourself! After the doctor diagnoses the condition, he will prescribe:
• NSAID — nonsteroid anti-inflammatory drugs to deal with the inflammation. These medication can damage the lining of your stomach and kidneys so they should be taken with food
• Narcotics — narcotics are powerful medication and are only prescribed in condition where the pain is too severe.

Physical Therapy
Physical therapy will help with the pain but it needs to be controlled and moderate; intense exercise can worsen the symptoms.

Good thing about physical therapy is that you can do it at home and it usually involves gentle stretching exercises for muscles of the chest and the entire upper body.

Most common stretch doctors will prescribe is pectoralis stretch. It is easy and simple — all you need is a wall or a doorway. Raise your arm to the side and rest your forearm against the wall. Lean forward into the stretch and hold for up to 30 seconds. Remember to breathe, stretch gently and stop if you experience pain.

Other things you can try at home are:
• Icing — ice will calm the infection down and relieve pain
• Heat therapy — heat will help relax tense muscles and have an overall soothing effect
• Rest — this condition requires rest. If you are an athlete or play some sport on a regular basis, you should lay off it for a while, and focus on recovery.

Costochondritis Prevention
In any health condition the key is in prevention. But here we have a bit of a problem since researchers are still unsure about the exact cause of this condition.
The only thing you can do is take better care of yourself, do regular stretching exercises, eat right and protect yourself better (if you are involved in a contact sport, such as American football).

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