A few months into the school year, Sophie noticed a sharp pain in her chest. She
freaked out, worried she was having a heart attack. Sophie and her mom called the
doctor to find out what was going on.
The doctor asked Sophie to come into the office. He asked about her symptoms, what
she'd been doing before she felt the pain, and what kinds of exercising she'd been
doing. The doctor told Sophie she had a condition called costochondritis.
What Is Costochondritis?
of the cartilage that attaches a rib to your breastbone (sternum). Costochondritis
is a fairly common cause of chest pain. It usually affects girls more than guys.
The sternum is the hard bone that goes down the center of your chest, from the
bottom of your neck to the top of your abdomen. Your ribs are connected to the sternum
by rubbery cartilage at points called costosternal joints. These
joints are where someone with costochondritis feels pain. Costochondritis can affect
one or more of these joints.
Costochondritis can hurt, but it's really harmless. It usually goes away on its
own after a week or so. Sometimes it can last for a few months, though.
You may hear medical staff call costochondritis by other names — like chest wall
pain or costosternal syndrome — but it's all the same thing.
What Causes Costochondritis?
It's not always obvious what causes costochondritis. Doctors think it's usually
caused by hard exercise or a minor injury from something like lifting a heavy object
What Are the Signs?
The main signs of costochondritis are pain and tenderness on one side of the chest.
The pain is usually sharp. It's often on the left side of the sternum (although it
is possible to have pain on both sides).
If you have costochondritis, the pain may get worse when you take deep breaths,
cough, move your upper body, or press on the sore area. The pain may lessen when you
stop moving or take shallower breaths, but it usually doesn't go away entirely.
Costochondritis pain can be scary. Lots of teens worry that they're having a heart
attack. So it can help to remember that heart attacks are extremely rare in
teens. You'll still want to get checked out by a doctor to find out what's
going on, though.
How Is It Diagnosed?
If you have sharp chest pain that doesn't go away, call a doctor or go to a hospital
emergency room. In rare cases, chest pain can be an emergency situation that needs
immediate medical attention.
To diagnose costochondritis, a doctor or nurse practitioner will ask questions
about the pain, then feel along your sternum for areas that are tender.
It's usually not possible to see costochondritis on chest X-rays or other imaging
tests. Still, your doctor might order these tests to rule out other possible causes
of chest pain, such as pneumonia.
How Is It Treated?
Costochondritis usually goes away on its own within a few days or weeks, but in
some cases it can go on longer. To help ease the pain until costochondritis goes away,
doctors may recommend over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen.
What Can You Do at Home?
Here are some things doctors recommend for dealing with costochondritis:
Try to get plenty of rest.
Avoid activities that make the pain worse.
When you're feeling better, you can do some of your usual activities. But be careful
not to overdo things. Too much exercise can sometimes make costochondritis pain worse.
Using a heating pad on the low setting or putting warm compresses on the painful
area can provide some relief.
Can You Prevent Costochondritis?
It's not really possible to prevent costochondritis, since it's not always clear
what causes it. You can take steps to avoid some of the known causes, though:
If you know that some activities may cause you to have costochondritis-like pain,
do your best to avoid them. You might want to work with a doctor or trainer to come
up with an exercise program that doesn't cause symptoms to flare up.
Minimize the amount of heavy lifting you do.
If you have to carry lots of books, use a backpack
or a bookbag that spreads the weight out evenly. Students who frequently carry heavy
school bags may have an increased risk of costochondritis, especially if they carry
a bag over one shoulder.
The good news about costochondritis is that it's not serious. But it definitely
can be scary! That's why it helps to talk to a doctor. That way, if the doctor says
you have costochondritis, you can relax and take the steps you need to feel better.