Learn how to recognise costochondritis and how to live with it.
Costochondritis, also known as Tietze Syndrome, is the inflammation of the cartilage where the ribs attach to the breast bone. Initially the symptoms are like those of a heart attack with pain moving from side to side of the chest and to the arms and neck. In fact, many sufferers rush to the emergency room fearing an attack.
In the beginning the pain is usually worse and it hurts to breathe, wear a bra or move suddenly. Eventually the pain subsides to a dull, constant ache or tenderness in the ribs. The cause of this condition is usually unknown but it can be the result of trauma to the rib cage, a viral infection or part of an inflammatory disease. The symptoms usually disappear spontaneously within eight weeks but sometimes it takes up to a year and in some individuals it remains a chronic condition. When it is a chronic condition the pain seems to wax and wane and any sudden movement or lifting of heavy objects could make the condition worse.
Some sufferers start thinking that there is something wrong with their lungs when they start finding difficulty in breathing. However there is no reason for alarm. This happens due to the swelling around the ribs, the lungs cannot expand fully.
Stress contributes to the pain because it makes the muscles tense. Other things which hurt are lifting, pushing, pulling, sneezing, coughing, long hours of driving or using the computer, repetitive motions and caffeine. Cold, rainy and humid weather also make a lot of sufferers feel worse. Ideally these situations should be avoided but where it is not possible it is important that they be carried out with care. It is absolutely necessary that you seek immediate medical attention if you develop chest pain. Heart attacks need to be ruled out.
The first action to take after being diagnosed with costochondritis is to make sure you get plenty of rest and apply heat to the affected area. There are many anti-inflammatory medications that can be bought over the counter like aspirin or Ibuprofen but your GP can prescribe something stronger if he thinks it is necessary. Cortisone shots are another alternative but they are not a cure and are not recommended as they are said to weaken the cartilage after long periods of use. Physiotherapy and acupuncture have also helped some people.
If you are a sufferer the most important thing to remember is not to overdo it as any strain will aggravate the condition. Talk to your GP and when you find the treatment that works best for you stick to it.