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Costochondritis

Costochondritis is an inflammation of a rib or the cartilage connecting a rib. This is a common cause of chest-wall pain. Inflammation or injury involving the chest muscles is another common cause of chest-wall pain.

Symptoms of Costochondritis

The problem is marked by chest tightness and sharp pain that worsens when you move or breathe deeply. The pain may spread to the arm and may occur in more than one place.

In the beginning the pain is usually worse and it hurts to breathe, wear a bra or move suddenly. Eventually the pain subsides to a dull, constant ache or tenderness in the ribs. The cause of this condition is usually unknown but it can be the result of trauma to the rib cage, a viral infection or part of an inflammatory disease. The symptoms usually disappear spontaneously within eight weeks but sometimes it takes up to a year and in some individuals it remains a chronic condition. When it is a chronic condition the pain seems to wax and wane and any sudden movement or lifting of heavy objects could make the condition worse.

Some sufferers start thinking that there is something wrong with their lungs when they start finding difficulty in breathing. However there is no reason for alarm. This happens because due to the swelling around the ribs, the lungs cannot expand fully.

Stress contributes to the pain because it makes the muscles tense. Other things which hurt are lifting, pushing, pulling, sneezing, coughing, long hours of driving or using the computer, repetitive motions and caffeine. Cold, rainy and humid weather also make a lot of sufferers feel worse. Ideally these situations should be avoided but where it is not possible it is important that they be carried out with care.

 
 

Treatment of Costochondritis

The first action to take after being diagnosed with costochondritis is to make sure you get plenty of rest and apply heat to the affected area. There are many anti-inflammatory medications that can be bought over the counter like aspirin or Ibuprofen but your GP can prescribe something stronger if he thinks it is necessary. Cortisone shots are another alternative but they are not a cure and are not recommended as they are said to weaken the cartilage after long periods of use. Physiotherapy and acupuncture have also helped some people

  • Avoid exhausting physical activity and try not to bump your ribs as you move around.
  • Applying heat to the injury may help relieve pain. Use a warm heating pad, whirlpool bath, or warm, moist towels for 10 to 20 minutes every hour for 48 hours.
  • Nonprescription medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen may ease the pain.

Modified 3-12-04
Information compiled from the National Institutes of Health

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