Chest Wall Pain: Costochondritis

Illustration of the chest showing position of the ribs, sternum, trachea, and lungs.

The chest pain that you have had today is caused by costochondritis. This condition is caused by an inflammation of the cartilage joining your ribs to your breastbone. It's not caused by heart or lung problems. Your healthcare team has made sure that the chest pain you feel is not from a life threatening cause of chest pain such as heart attack, collapsed lung, blood clot in the lung, tear in the aorta, or esophageal rupture. The inflammation may have been brought on by a blow to the chest, lifting heavy objects, intense exercise, or an illness that made you cough and sneeze a lot. It often occurs during times of emotional stress. It can be painful, but it's not dangerous. It usually goes away in 1 to 2 weeks. But it may happen again. Rarely, a more serious condition may cause symptoms similar to costochondritis. That’s why it’s important to watch for the warning signs listed below.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • If you feel that emotional stress is a cause of your condition, try to figure out the sources of that stress. It may not be obvious. Learn ways to deal with the stress in your life. This can include regular exercise, muscle relaxation, meditation, or simply taking time out for yourself.

  • You may use acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines.

  • You can also help ease pain by using a hot, wet compress or heating pad. Use this with or without a medicated skin cream that helps relieves pain.

  • Do stretching exercise as advised by your provider. Typically rest is beneficial for the first few days. Avoid strenuous activity that worsens the pain.

  • Take any prescribed medicines as directed.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • A change in the type of pain. Call if it feels different, becomes more serious, lasts longer, or spreads into your shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, or back.

  • Shortness of breath or pain gets worse when you breathe

  • Weakness, dizziness, or fainting

  • Cough with dark-colored sputum (phlegm) or blood

  • Abdominal pain

  • Dark red or black stools

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

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