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Causes of Sternum Pain

Causes of Sternum Pain

Your sternum, or breastbone, connects the two sides of your rib cage. It sits in front of many major organs located in your chest and gut, including your heart, lungs, and stomach. As a result, many conditions that don’t have anything to do with your sternum might cause pain in the sternum and the surrounding area. Your first reaction to chest pain, especially consistent chest pain, may cause you to think it’s a heart attack. But in many cases, chest pain has nothing to do with your heart. Moreover, this is especially true if you’re under age 40 and don’t have any serious health issues or existing conditions. Furthermore, sternum pain is actually more likely caused by conditions that have to do with your muscles, your bones, or your digestive tract than with your heart or the sternum itself. Here are the most common reasons for sternum pain and when you should see your doctor.


Sternum pain is usually caused by problems with muscles and bones near the sternum and not the sternum itself. Pain felt just behind or below the sternum is called substernal pain and is sometimes caused by gastrointestinal problems. Some of the most common causes of sternum and substernal pain are:

  • costochondritis
  • collarbone injuries
  • sternoclavicular joint injury
  • hernia
  • sternum fracture
  • acid reflux
  • muscular strain

Symptoms of Pain in Sternum

Pain in sternum can be experienced as a dull aching pain or severe sharp pain. Muscle spasm or tissue injury often results in pain proportionate to the severity of the injury and pain is sometimes felt on movement or even while breathing. Any fall or sports injury may be obvious as symptoms may begin soon after the event. Additionally, when pain in sternum is due to cardiac or pulmonary causes, it may present with other associated symptoms like sweating, difficulty in breathing and cough. With gastric causes, abdominal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, burning sensation in stomach, abdominal pain or bloating, etc.

When to See Your Doctor

Make sure to see your doctor right away if you have heart attack symptoms or symptoms that cause you sharp, consistent pain that gets in the way of your daily life. You should also see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • sternum and general chest pain that has no obvious cause
  • sweating, dizziness, or nausea
  • trouble breathing
  • pain that spreads from your chest throughout your upper body
  • chest tightness

If you’re experiencing other symptoms and they last for more than a few days, definitely talk to your doctor.

Treatment of Pain in Sternum

Treatment for pain in sternum usually depends on the underlying cause. For sternum pain caused due to injuries and muscle strains, ice packs or hot compresses may be very helpful. Rest is usually required to aid healing of the damaged tissues. Moreover, anti-inflammatory medicines are given and physical therapy may be advised. Gastric and acid reflux disease causing pain in sternum is treated with antacids and bland food is advised. Furthermore, cardiac and pulmonary causes require specific treatment and some may need hospitalization, depending on the severity of the pain in sternum.

Your next few steps depend on what condition might be causing your sternum pain and how severe the condition is. You may just need to take pain medication or simply change your diet. But you may need long-term treatment if the underlying condition is more serious. In some cases, you may need surgery in order to treat a heart or gastrointestinal condition. Once your doctor diagnoses the cause, they can develop a treatment plan that can help relieve the symptoms and causes of your sternum pain.