Costochondritis (kos-tuh-kon-DRY-tis) is a painful swelling of the cartilage that
attaches the ribs to the breastbone (sternum). It's one of the most common causes
of chest pain in kids and teens, and happens more often in girls than boys.
Costochondritis — also called chest wall pain or costosternal
syndrome — can cause a sharp, stabbing pain. Usually, it's harmless and goes
away on its own after 2 or 3 days.
What Causes Costochondritis?
Doctors often can't pinpoint the exact cause of costochondritis. But sometimes
it's linked to:
an injury to the ribs or breastbone
physical strain due to heavy lifting or strenuous exercise
repeated coughing (as can happen with some infections)
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Costochondritis?
The main symptoms of costochondritis are pain and soreness in the chest. A sharp
pain is usually felt on the left side of the breastbone, but can be on both sides.
The pain can get worse when a child:
takes deep breaths
moves the upper body
presses on the affected area
Pain may ease a little when the child stops moving or takes shallower breaths.
A heart attack is rarely the cause of chest pain in young people. Still, it helps
to know how costochondritis pain differs from heart attack pain:
Heart attack pain is usually more widespread and felt in other
body parts, like the arms and neck. It also feels as if it's coming from under the
Costochondritis pain usually is felt only in a small area of
the chest and feels as if it's coming directly from where the breastbone meets the
How Is Costochondritis Diagnosed?
To diagnose costochondritis, the doctor will:
ask about the symptoms
feel for tenderness along the area where the breastbone meets the ribs
The breastbone and ribs are connected by rubbery
at points called costosternal joints. It's in one or
more of these joints that the pain is felt.
Costochondritis can't be seen on a chest
X-ray, but the doctor may order one to rule out other possible causes of chest
pain, such as pneumonia.
How Is Costochondritis Treated?
Costochondritis usually goes away on its own without any treatment within a few
days. Sometimes, it lasts longer — from several weeks to months. If you're concerned
about pain that's not going away, talk to your doctor.
In the meantime, the doctor will probably recommend giving your child over-the-counter
pain medicines like ibuprofen
or naproxen to help ease symptoms. Applying a warm compress or a heating pad (set
on low) to the sore area also may give some relief.
Until feeling better, your child should get plenty of rest and avoid activities
that make the pain worse.
Can Costochondritis Be Prevented?
It's not always clear what causes costochondritis, so you can't completely prevent
it. But many cases are caused by heavy lifting, like carrying an overstuffed backpack
— especially on one shoulder, which many kids do. So if your child has to carry lots
of books, buy a supportive backpack that spreads weight evenly over both shoulders
and make sure it's worn over both shoulders.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
If your child has chest pain that doesn't go away, call your doctor or go to a
room. Chest pain rarely is serious in kids. But sometimes it can be the sign of
an emergency that needs medical care right away.