March 6, 2008

Treatment for Costochondritis

Posted in Category : Bone, Joint & Muscles Disorders

In simple terms, costochondritis refers to a pain in the chest. This usually occurs due to a swelling in the ribcage or in the cartilage that connects to the rib. Costochondritis causes pain in the chest that is very similar to that of a heart attack. It also goes by the term chest pain or chest wall pain. Costochondritis usually occurs at a point in the chest where the bone and cartilage meet. This is usually between the second and the fifth ribs.

As the symptoms of costochondritis are very similar to life threatening ailments like cardiovascular disease, it is important to report the situation to a qualified physician straight away. It is better to be safe than sorry in this case. Once heart disease is ruled out, the doctor can focus on curing costochondritis, depending on what caused it.


Costochondritis can occur due to a variety of reasons and to people of all ages. Here is a list of the causes of costochondritis.

  • Physical injury to the ribcage can cause costochondritis.
  • Overexertion due to the lifting of heavy objects can cause the muscles of the chest wall to tighten, thus causing costochondritis. Sometimes, violent coughing can also cause chest pain.
  • Arthritis such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause swelling in the ribcage and therefore chest pain.
  • An infection in the chest because of bacteria or viruses can cause costochondritis too. In some cases, this infection takes place due to surgery in and around the ribcage area.
  • Both benign and malignant tumors near the ribcage can cause costochondritis.


In order to ascertain this medical condition, the physician will perform a physical exam. He/she will pay close attention to the ribcage, looking for signs of discomfort and swelling.  In addition, the doctor may ask for certain medical tests that will help throw more light on the situation. Depending on each individual, the following tests may be conducted:

  • X-ray of the chest to rule out pneumonia and other medical implications
  • Blood tests
  • ECG or electrocardiogram to measure heart activity and rule out cardiovascular illness
  • A bone scan to check for cancer
  • In certain cases, the doctor may opt for a gallium scan, which is a more refined test that checks for infection near the ribcage


After the diagnosis is clear, the doctor may suggest the following options for the treatment of costochondritis, depending on the severity of the condition and the physical condition of the patient.

  • In most cases, costochondritis may resolve itself over time with the help of over the counter pain medication. However, the doctor may ask for prescription pain killers in certain cases.
  • Direct cortisone injections to the tender area may help to relieve pain in some situations.
  • This happens rarely, but when the pain is too intense, the physician in charge may numb the area with a nerve block or in some cases prescribe heavy medication that relieves pain. For example, antidepressants may help in case the patient has sleeping trouble. Anti-seizure drugs are usually prescribed to deal with chronic pain.
  • In certain cases, the physician may recommend physiotherapy to help deal with the problem. There is also a procedure called nerve stimulation that helps to mask pain signals and thus reduce pain in the affected area.

Home Remedies

In most cases, costochondritis is a harmless condition that resolves itself with the passage of time. Home remedies can help in easing the symptoms and in providing relief. Let us take a look at a few natural remedies that one can opt for.

  • Hot or cold therapy can help to relax the muscles and lessen the pain. A hot water bottle/heating pad is as effective as an ice pack. You can choose whatever you are comfortable with. As a word of caution, do not allow the heating pad to get too hot or you might burn yourself.
  • As mentioned earlier, over the counter pain medications usually help to reduce the pain in the ribcage.
  • Costochondritis may occur due to heavy lifting and physical strain. If this is the case, make it a point to rest your body. Try to avoid lifting heavy objects and stay away from too much physical exertion.
  • Herbal medicine and alternative therapy like acupressure may help to relieve the symptoms of costochondritis. Certain herbs can help to ease muscular or joint pain. They may be applied topically or used as a dietary supplement. Some herbal specialists recommend the use of the herb arnica. It is best to consult your health service provider before making huge changes in your diet as certain herbs can have adverse effects when taken in large quantities.
  • Normal hygiene practices like washing hands regularly and keeping a clean house will help to avoid chest pain that is caused due to bacterial reasons.