Prolonged chest wall pain

Updated July 04, 2018

Having prolonged chest wall pain can be stressful and frustrating if you don't know what is causing it or how to treat it. Though there are several reasons that a person can develop prolonged chest wall pain, the most common cause is a condition called costochondritis, a side effect of being stricken with fibromyalgia. Other causes of prolonged chest wall pain include pleurisy and pneumonia. It is important to determine the root cause of prolonged chest wall pain so that effective treatment can be initiated.


Chest pain that is usually but not always associated with fibromyalgia is called constochondritis. It occurs when there is inflammation along the cartilage that connects the rib cage to the chest wall. Costochondritis discomfort is experienced either as a stabbing sharp pain or a dull, constant, aching pain. For some patients the pain of costochondritis can be very frightening while others function around it without problems.

According to the National Fibromyalgia Association between 60 and 70 per cent of patients with fibromyalgia also suffer from the prolonged chest wall pain of constochondritis.

Treatment of Costochondritis

Costochondritis lasts anywhere from several weeks to several months and is treated with anti-inflammatories and pain medications. Chest wall pain attributed to costochondritis in a person who does not have fibromyalgia is usually caused by a chest wall trauma such as a vehicle accident or sports injury. With seven possible cartilage areas in the chest wall that can be affected, the pain can be localised to one area or spread throughout the chest wall, if all seven are inflamed. In most cases the prolonged chest wall pain of costochondritis lasts six months to one year after symptoms first develop.


Another common cause of prolonged chest wall pain is pleurisy. Pleurisy happens when the membrane between the chest cavity and the chest wall becomes inflamed. The Mayo Clinic reports that pleurisy is usually a complication from several conditions, including pneumonia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, chest trauma, tuberculosis and bronchitis.

The most common symptom of pleurisy is a sharp stabbing pain when attempting to take a deep breath; however, other symptoms can include exhibiting shortness of breath, suffering a dry nonproductive cough and having a fever or getting the chills.

Treatment for pleurisy includes diagnosing the underlying cause and treating it, as well as the use of pain medications and anti-inflammatories for the pleurisy itself.


Other Causes

Other causes of prolonged chest wall pain include stress, indigestion, ulcers and underlying illnesses. Lung cancer rarely causes a patient to develop pleurisy. The first step to finding out more about your chest wall pain is to contact your physician. Tests surrounding a pleurisy diagnosis can include chest X-rays, ultrasounds, blood work and medical history.


Whenever you experience chest pain, it is important to have it medically evaluated to rule out the possibility of a heart condition. If the pain is accompanied by sweating, nausea, shortness of breath or other heart attack symptoms, get to the nearest emergency care facility.

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About the Author

Candace Webb has been writing professionally since 1989. She has worked as a full-time journalist as well as contributed to metropolitan newspapers including the "Tennessean." She has also worked on staff as an associate editor at the "Nashville Parent" magazine. Webb holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a minor in business from San Jose State University.