All You Need to Know About Costochondritis

Oct 11, 2016 | Blog, Pain Management

Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage that joins the upper ribs to the sternum (breastbone). Costochondritis is also called chest wall pain, costosternal syndrome and costosternal chondrodynia. The pain associated with costochondritis can seem like a heart attack or other heart condition,  normally occurring on the left side of the breastbone. It can be sharp, aching or pressure-like, can affect more than one rib, and will worsen if you take a deep breath or cough. You can reproduce the pain by pressing hard on the cartilage in front of your ribcage.

Costochondritis Causes Pain and Tenderness on the Breastbone

Although painful, costochondritis is harmless and normally goes away on its own after several weeks without treatment. In most cases, costochondritis has no apparent cause, but may be related to increased activity of the arms. In a few cases, an infection or complications after sternum surgery is the cause of costochondritis. If you experience chest pain, you should not assume costochondritis is all you have. Chest pain can still be an indicator of a problem with your heart and should always be taken seriously. 

Evaluation & Diagnosis

While there is no test for costochondritis, other tests need to be run to rule out other conditions. It is difficult to distinguish between heart disease and costochondritis without extensive testing. Having a well-trained doctor to properly diagnose your condition is of the utmost importance.

Call a doctor immediately if you have trouble breathing, a high fever that does not respond to fever medication, any signs of infection such as redness or swelling at the rib joints, no relief from pain when using pain medications, nausea, constant sweating, left arm pain, or any generalized chest pain that is not localized. These may all be signs of a heart attack. If there is any uncertainty, it is always safest to just go to the emergency room.


Since costochondritis does not normally have an apparent cause, treatment focuses on pain management. Your doctor may recommend the following:

  •       Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to relieve pain
  •       Narcotics
  •       Antidepressants
  •       Anti-seizure drugs
  •       Heat or ice packs
  •       Taking a break from any unnecessary exercise or activities that make the symptoms worse
  •       Stretching exercises
  •       Steroid injections
  •       Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

If none of these treatments work and your costochondritis does not go away on its own, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the sore cartilage.

Finding a Costochondritis Specialist

Based in Burbank, CA, we at Comprehensive Spine & Pain Physicians believe in a comprehensive approach to pain management using evidence-based medicine to maximize conservative treatment before considering more invasive modalities. This includes physical and occupational therapy, complementary medicine, prescription medications and spinal procedures when appropriate. Call us at 818-325-2088 or schedule a consultation online. Our highly ranked doctors will be by your side on the road to recovery.