How to treat costochondritis

Updated February 21, 2017

Costochondritis is basically a condition causing inflammation of the bones and cartilage of the chest wall, mainly in the area surrounding the sternum. The inflammation occurs at the cartilage connecting the rib bones to the sternum. Not all causes of costochondritis are known, but there are some key causes. One is from a car accident, where the individual's chest hits the steering wheel and the ribs and sternum are injured. A second cause is repeated overuse to the area in sports, such as in rowers. Sometimes an upper respiratory infection can cause costochondritis, especially from repetitive coughing during the illness. This article will explore methods for treating and dealing with costochondritis.

If you have pain in the chest area, especially due to overuse in sports or a car accident, the first step is to get checked out by a doctor. If you were injured in a car accident, you may be taken to the hospital by ambulance. You will first want a doctor's examination to determine if you have costochondritis.

X-rays may be taken to first determine if you have a fractured rib bone or a sternal fracture. A sternal fracture can produce very similar pain to costochondritis, as the source of the pain is the area around the sternum. It might be that you have a broken rib and costochondritis.

After the X-rays, the doctor will ask questions to determine the cause of the pain you are experiencing in your chest. If you feel a sharp pain directly over the sternum or to the right or left of it, you may have costochondritis. You may never know for sure if costochondritis is to blame, since muscle injury could also cause similar pain. However, if you have swelling in addition to the pain in the sternal area, it is more likely to be costochondritis.

The doctor could decide to diagnose and treat for costochondritis without knowing for sure. However, for a specific diagnosis when the x-ray did not show a fracture would require a CAT scan or MRI. Either of these could show a break or tear in a muscle which would might mean something else is to blame or could potentially show oedema (swelling) in the sternum itself, indicating costochondritis.

Check yourself for indications. The first as already mentioned is pain localised in a certain area over the sternum that hurts immensely upon being touched. Other indications would include increased pain when taking a deep breath and more pain along the sternum when using muscles that connect to the sternum.

Rest. Costochondritis is caused either by overuse or by trauma, so the best thing to do is not to use the muscles and joints surrounding the sternum and to give them a chance to heal. Moving the least amount possible initially will help start the recovery process.

Ibuprofen or another anti-inflammatory medicine is imperative. You need to reduce the inflammation that is causing the condition and the pain. The doctor will most likely prescribe 800 mg 3 times per day initially, perhaps decreasing to 400 mg 2 to 3 times per day as the pain starts to subside.

Pain medication is often prescribed with costochondritis, especially if it is due to an injury. You may be given a narcotic pain reliever that includes acetaminophen. However, know that if you take pain medication, you may not be aware that you are irritating the area with certain exercises and movements.

Apply ice or heat to the sternal area, depending upon which feels better to you. Some may find that heat increases the pain, whereas others may find it beneficial. Ice can be very cold applied to the chest but can help with inflammation.

In general, the exercise that caused the costochondritis (if a sports injury) should be avoided, as well as any type of exercise that irritates the area. However, some movement should gradually be increased in the area to promote slow healing. Physiotherapy may recommend that specific types of exercises be done. Experience has shown that ultrasound treatment over the upper sternum area helps to relax the joints and cartilage and allow for better healing.

Expect the pain of costochondritis to last for at least 1 to 2 months, sometimes as long as 6 months. After this, most of the pain should subside. However, if there are other associated injuries , such as a sternal fracture, bruised bones, bruised muscles and muscle strains, the overall pain could last up to a year or longer, especially if the injury was bad. The quality of care can also determine the length of the recovery period.


It can be helpful to do some research on costochondritis and related conditions on your own, so that when you visit the doctor, you can ask more specific questions and help reach an accurate diagnosis. Costochondritis needs relief from the overuse/ injury to the sternal area. Avoid any type of movement or exercise that will exacerbate the affected area.


Often, costochondritis is difficult to diagnose. This is because many physicians are not familiar with the condition, and there are other causes of chest pain that are hard to distinguish. Misdiagnosis could come in the form of diagnosis of a chest muscle strain or sprain, or that the bones and cartilage are simply bruised. You may have other problems associated with the area as well, so other things should also be checked out to provide proper care, such as a rib or sternal fracture and/or bruised bones and a strain or sprain.

Things You'll Need

  • Ibuprofen
  • Pain medication (optional)
  • Ice pack and/or hot pack
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