What is Costochondritis – Unusual symptoms and self help tips for agonising chest pain

I lay on my back and close my eyes, the heaviness In my chest is uncomfortable, I struggle to catch my breath. It feels as though someone has punched me right in the centre of my chest. The pain radiates over my left breast bone and ribs. Am I having a heart attack? 

The pain feels as though someone is sitting on my chest, they are taking my breath and squashing my ribs. Not matter which position I lay in the pain is there.

I lay in bed in tears, my arms feel heavy and the pins and needles sensation wont stop. My leg is twitching and pins and needles have now started in my legs and feet. I still can’t catch my breath. I start to experience the odd palpitation which only adds to the panic attack I am now experiencing.

Your all probably thinking call 999 get the ambulance out, your having a heart attack! I am not though. I am experiencing a flare up of Costochondritis.

What is Costochondritis

Costochondritis is the medical term for inflammation of the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone (sternum). This area is known as the costochondral joint.

When the costochondral joint becomes inflamed it can result in sharp chest pain and tenderness, which may develop gradually or start suddenly.
The pain may be made worse by:

  • a particular posture – such as lying down
  • pressure on your chest – such as wearing a seatbelt or hugging someone
    deep breathing, coughing and sneezing
  • physical activity

www.nhs.uk 

anterior view of male outline showing pain in the thoracic cartilage. Costochondritis. SOURCE: 4A11722

What causes it?

Anyone can develop Costochondritis, I was diagnosed with the condition a year ago but I feel that I have had it a lot longer than that, in some cases it’s been linked to:

  • severe coughing – which strains your chest area
  • an injury to your chest
  • physical strain from repeated exercise or sudden exertion that you’re not used to – such as moving furniture
  • an infection – including respiratory tract infections (RTIs) and wound infections
  • wear and tear – your chest moves in and out 20 to 30 times a minute, and over time this motion can lead to discomfort in these joints

Costochondritis may improve on its own after a few weeks, although it can last for several months or more. People are prone to have relapses of the condition. I have chronic costochondritis, I relapse when I am extremely stressed or I have been over doing things.

Other symptoms

The chest pain associated with costochondritis  is similar to what you would experience with a heart attack and therefore many people go into panic mode.

With this in mind it brings me to the other symptoms associated with the condition. Some of the below symptoms could be related to a panic attack brought on by worry; but if like me you are scared or worried, its reassuring to see others experience the same.

  • Headaches
  • Swollen neck
  • Tightness in neck
  • Swollen shoulder muscles
  • Back pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Burning sensation in muscles
  • Tingling sensation in muscles (arms, legs. feet and hands)
  • Palpitations
  • Fatigue
  • Tiredness
  • Generally weak
  • Arm pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain when breathing to deep
  • Dizziness
  • Feeling somewhat okay during the day and at night symptoms appear
  • Depression

Some people with Fibromyalgia are more likely to suffer with costochondritis but not enough studies have been done for it to be conclusive.

The symptoms you are experiencing could also be linked to something else so it is always best to see the doctor.

Treatment

Painkillers
Painkillers, such as paracetamol, can be used to ease mild to moderate pain.
Taking a type of medication called a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) – such as ibuprofen and naproxen – two or three times a day can also help control the pain and swelling.

Corticosteroid injections
Corticosteroids are powerful medicines that can help reduce pain and swelling. They can be injected into and around your costochondral joint to help relieve the symptoms of costochondritis.
Corticosteroid injections may be recommended if your pain is severe, or if NSAIDs are unsuitable or ineffective.

My self-help tips

Costochondritis can be aggravated by any activity that places stress on your chest area, such as strenuous exercise or even simple movements like reaching up to a high cupboard.
Any activity that makes the pain in your chest area worse should be avoided until the inflammation in your ribs and cartilage has improved.

  • Having a stretch every morning (only what is comfortable)
  • Turmeric powder in hot water as a tea every morning. It reduces inflammation. The anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric mean it can help relieve joint pains.
  • Taking vitamins (D, MSM, Omega 3) to help strengthen bones.
  • I have found cuddling a pillow at night really helps as it opens my chest while I sleep.
  • Swimming

For me the most annoying part about living with this recurring condition is that I find almost everything painful. Being a busy mum and dealing with a flare up is not good at all. Lifting my arms to get a cereal box down from the cupboard has me in agony. Picking up toys, loading the washing machine, hovering, mopping everything aggravates it.

I have spoken to others who have the condition, they have shared with me how it feels for them:

‘I’ve had costo for 8 weeks & can’t lift my kids or anything heavier than a gallon of milk, for that matter. I also can’t drive, because turning the wheel aggravates my sternum. This condition is limiting my life in a major way. I live in the US.’

‘Hi I am from Australia. I have had this condition since 1989 but have never actually been diagnosed. Spend much time off work when I was in such bad pain. This year I will seek to formally have this diagnosed. Not that it will help but maybe putting a name to the pain I feel will be great!”

I have this and I work within a day care nursery in the baby room. It has taken over my job I can’t lift them and I can only manage to do half days as the pain gets worse as the day goes on. I live in the UK.

Mine flare sometimes when I want to pick up a jug of milk, something so light should be easy to lift right? Wrong. I’ve periodically had to have my husband feed me because I can’t lift a fork or a spoon. When we’ve been out and this has happened I get so many strange looks from other patrons and it’s humiliating. The woman who only a second ago could feed herself now makes her husband do it.
Then, there’s doors. If I’m having a particularly sore day I’m unable to open doors that need to be pulled. Once I got stuck in a restaurant’s restroom because I couldn’t pull the door to get out. I always need to make sure to have my phone on me in case it happens again (which it has) and I have to call the one I’m out with to come rescue me. It makes me feel so useless and weak. And then I think about parents who have this condition and if they’re out with their children and this happens to them. It must be so devastating.
I’m a Swede living in the UK. 

Do you suffer with this condition? if so, how do you manage? Have you found certain things make it worse or help?

I would love for you to leave tips or feedback for others to read in the comments.

Comments

  1. Georgina

    Thank you for describing what so many people with costo struggle to explain, it brought tears to my eyes seeing this. I’ve had it since I was 14, I’m 25 now.

  2. Terry

    Thank you for sharing your story. There are so many like us. I shared your story with my family and friends so they know what I have been dealing with.

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