Costochondritis involves inflammation of the cartilage that links the ribs to the sternum or breastbone. It is important to note that this region is called as the costochondral joint.
The cartilage functions as a shock absorber to cushion the joints. The condition might settle on its own after a few weeks, but can persist for several months or longer. In most cases, it does not lead to any lasting issues but might relapse.
What are the indications?
Once the costochondral joint becomes swollen, it triggers piercing chest pain and tenderness that might gradually develop or occur abruptly. The discomfort might be aggravated by the following:
- Posture especially when lying down
- Physical activity
- Pressure on the chest such as wearing a seatbelt or hugging another person
- Coughing, deep breathing and sneezing
What are the causes?
It is still not known what triggers the inflammation of the costochondral joint, but in some instances, it has been associated with:
- Severe or forceful episodes of coughing that strains the chest area
- Wear and tear
- Infections such as respiratory tract infections
- Physical strain from repetitive exercise or sudden exertion that the body is not accustomed to
Management of costochondritis
Costochondritis often settles after a few weeks but self-care measures along with medications can help in managing the symptoms.
- Since costochondritis is aggravated by any activity that places strain on the chest region, it is important to avoid any activity that worsens the chest pain until the inflammation has settled.
- Regular application of heat over the sore area
- Pain medications can be given to lessen mild to moderate discomfort in the area.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be given 2-3 times in a day to manage the swelling and pain.
Corticosteroids are potent drugs used to lessen the pain and swelling. It is administered directly into and around the costochondral joint to alleviate the symptoms of costochondritis.
Corticosteroid injections might be suggested if the pain is intense or if NSAIDs are not effective in managing the discomfort.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
TENS is a pain relief option that involves a mild electric current that is administered to the affected area from a small-sized, battery-operated device.
The electrical impulses work by reducing the pain signals moving to the spinal cord and brain to lessen the pain and allow the muscles to relax. In addition, it also helps stimulate the release of endorphins which are the natural painkillers in the body.