What is costochondritis?
Costochondritis is the inflammation of the cartilage present in the rib cage. This condition usually affects the cartilage of the upper rib area, where the sternum (breastbone) is attached. This area is also called the costosternal joint or costosternal junction.
Chest pain due to costochondritis may range from mild to severe. Mild cases of costochondritis may cause chest tenderness when pushed or touched. When it comes to severe costochondritis, unbearable chest pain or shooting pains that affect your limbs may be experienced. These symptoms often interfere with daily activities and do not seem to go away. However, the condition usually resolves on its own within a few weeks. In some cases, treatment may be required.
Experts are still unable to identify the exact cause of costochondritis. However, there are certain conditions that may cause it. They include:
- Types of arthritis and related diseases
- Blunt chest trauma
- Viral or respiratory infections (tuberculosis)
- Diseases and conditions that may cause joint pain and inflammation, such as syphilis
- Presence of tumors in costosternal joints
- Strenuous exercises, heavy lifting, and other physical strains from activities
People who suffer from costochondritis typically experience chest pain, particularly in the middle rib region on either side of the breastbone. This pain may also radiate to the abdomen or back. At times, this pain would worsen whenever a person moves, stretches, or deeply breathes.
The symptoms of costochondritis may also mimic the symptoms of other serious conditions such as a heart attack. For this reason, any person who experiences severe and persistent chest pain should immediately receive medical attention to rule out other possible causes.
Most cases of mild costochondritis can be treated with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen and ibuprofen. In some cases, other medications can be prescribed, which include:
- Antianxiety drugs
- Narcotic painkillers
- Oral steroids or injectable steroids to the affected area
- Prescription-strength NSAIDs
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) such as amitriptyline
Apart from taking medications, certain lifestyle changes may also be recommended by the doctor. Getting plenty of rest, physical therapy, and using hot and cold therapy, are also beneficial. Avoid performing manual labor since it can have a negative effect on the body. Some exercises may also aggravate the condition and they include lifting heavy weights and running.
Pain levels may also be used by doctors to evaluate their patient's response to treatment. Once treatment is finished, people can gradually go back to their usual activity levels. Having a daily stretching routine can also help relieve pain. Another method to relieve pain is undergoing a procedure called transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), wherein certain amounts of electricity is used to inhibit the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.
Use of Physical Therapy Exercises
Pain due to costochondritis can be relieved with the help of physical therapy, exercises, and stretching. Physical therapy is a treatment approach that promotes mobility and function. It is often used for muscle strengthening, flexibility, coordination, mobility problems, and pain management. Aside from costochondritis, physical therapy can also help improve other health conditions and disease processes, which include rheumatoid arthritis, back pain, and musculoskeletal pain.
Physical therapists usually evaluate patients to determine specific treatment plans, which may include manual therapy, electrical stimulation, hot or cold therapy, ultrasound, and core-strength exercises. Physical therapy is usually available in clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, fitness and sports facilities, and home health care.
The goal of physical therapy for costochondritis is to relieve musculoskeletal chest pain, deep breathing without pain, and achieving a full range of motion. This treatment method may also include the use of heat packs for cartilage and muscle relaxation as well as careful stretching of the chest muscles. Doctors may also prescribe NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation.
Stretches That Help Relieve Costochondritis Pain
Stretches are often recommended by doctors to help people with costochondritis. Easier breathing is reported by many people who have done stretches for costochondritis. A slow start is recommended when trying stretches for the first time to avoid having muscle strains.
The following are some stretches that may help ease costochondritis pain:
1. Pectoral Muscle Stretch
Stand in the middle of a doorway and put one foot in front of the other. Place your forearms on each side of the doorway and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle. Next, shift your weight to your front leg and lean forward. You will feel a stretch in the muscles of your chest. Hold this position for 15 seconds before relaxing and returning to starting position. Repeat 10 times.
2. Stability Ball Chest Stretch
Sit on a stability ball. Gently roll the ball down until it is securely placed under your neck and upper back. Extend your arms sideways and feel your chest muscles stretch. Hold this position for about 10-15 seconds while breathing normally.
3. Foam Roller Stretches
Start by lying back on a foam roller. Extend your arms to the sides with elbows and knees bent. Hold this position for 20 seconds or slowly move your arms along the floor similar to making a snow angel. Stop right away if you are uncomfortable with the stretching exercise. This type of stretching is known to be quite strong. It allows for the back to curve around the foam roller so as to stretch out the chest muscles.
4. Yoga Exercises
Yoga poses can help relieve pain in people with costochondritis. Not all yoga poses are beneficial to costochondritis pain. Some of these poses are the downward-facing dog and bridge pose, which can make the pain worse. However, a gentler form of exercise called restorative yoga can be good for people suffering from costochondritis. Restorative yoga can help improve blood flow, release tension, and promotes muscle relaxation to the rib cage muscles.
The following are some of the yoga poses that can be tried:
- Virasana or the Hero Pose
- Savasana or the Corpse Pose
- Virabhadrasana or the Warrior Pose
- Tadasana or Mountain Pose
- Viparita Karani or Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Bharadvajasana or Bharadvaja's Twist
- Balasana or the Child’s Pose
- Urdhva Hastasana or the Upward Salute Pose