I have been diagnosed with costochondritis. What is it? Will it go away completely and will I be able to resume an active lifestyle? Do I need to take any special precautions during the healing process?
Costochondritis is an inflammation of the cartilage of one or more ribs, where they attach to the breastbone, or sternum, in the front part of the chest.
The inflammation causes chest pain, which often leads people suffering from costochondritis to think they’re having a heart attack. The pain may get worse with movement or exertion that involves the upper torso, and it may be relieved with resting. Sometimes deep breathing can hurt. Pressure on the rib cage may also cause pain and soreness.
It’s believed that costochondritis is sometimes caused by trauma to the to the rib cage, respiratory infection or overexertion. But in most cases, the inflammation’s cause is never determined.
Some doctors use the term costochondritis interchangeably with Tietze’s syndrome, but there’s some disagreement on that matter. Those who make a distinction between the two conditions say that Tietze’s syndrome involves edema, or swelling from fluid retention, in the same area of the rib, while costochondritis involves inflammation without edema.
Odds are that it will go away completely, but I can’t give you a guarantee. Most people do have a full recovery within a matter of weeks, up to about six months. A few suffer chronic or recurrent bouts.
As for special precautions, give yourself time to rest and don’t push it. The pain is usually the most intense in the beginning. That’s when you should listen to your body’s signals and get plenty of rest. Use ice, heat or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin, as needed.
As the pain starts to subside and movement becomes more tolerable, you can begin gentle exercise, which can include strengthening your upper body muscles. Be sure to get proper instruction on exercise technique so you don’t cause additional muscle or joint injuries and you don’t re-injure the ribs.
If you’ve been diagnosed with costochondritis, it’s probably a relief to find out it’s a musculoskeletal problem and not heart disease. But people who suddenly start having chest pain should not attempt to diagnose themselves. In the case of chest pain, it’s wiser to take the better-safe-than-sorry route and let a doctor make the call.