Costochondritis is a condition in which there is inflammation and tenderness right at the area where the cartilage attaches to the sternum (the costochondral joints). The condition causes great pain on one or both sides of the sternum. The pain can radiate out, causing discomfort in the whole upper chest area. Diagnosis is made by gently pressing the joints along the sternum after ruling out other conditions like a heart attack. The condition and associated pain can last for six months to a year or more. This article will explore how to prevent costochondritis.
Avoid trauma to the chest area including the sternum and ribs. One cause of costochondritis is a blunt force injury to the chest area. This would usually happen in a car accident, such as when the driver's chest hits the steering wheel if the airbag doesn't deploy upon impact. Other causes of direct impact to the chest would include being punched in the chest during a fight or getting hit in the chest during a contact sport such as football.
Protect your sternum and ribs when driving. One way to protect yourself from a severe blow to the chest in a car accident is to wear your seat belt. Often, the seat belt can restrain you enough that you don't hit the steering wheel, or at least not as hard. Also make sure your airbags are working, so that the airbag keeps you from hitting the steering wheel upon impact.
Use protection when playing contact sports. Anything you can use to lessen a blow to your chest area will help you avoid costochondritis. Wear some type of padding on the chest.
Have good posture. Poor posture and poorly designed chairs at workstations can lead to weakened muscles and joints and lead to costochondritis. Sitting up straight at work and while on a computer can lessen your chance of this weakening which leads to costochondritis. Ergonimically designed chairs can also be of benefit.
Avoid activities that will overuse the chest area and strain the chest muscles and joints. Repetitively using this area without proper conditioning can lead to costochondritis. Also, misuse and overuse of the chest area can lead to costochondritis. Compare this to carpal tunnel syndrome, where overuse and misuse of the wrists can lead to injury.
Keep the muscles in your chest area well toned and stretched out. Do exercises to tone the chest muscles and stretching exercises to stay limber. This way, if you're involved in an accident or injury to the chest, the body will be more flexible and you will have less chance of the injury being serious (and leading to costochondritis). The more toned you are, the better you'll be able to heal as well.
If you do receive injury to your chest area, seek medical attention immediately and follow the doctor's instructions for treatment. Make sure to take anti-inflammatory medicine and rest the area, so that it can heal. Costochondritis may develop as a secondary condition when your body is still stressed after injury and is not allowed to heal, or the body reacts with the condition when trying to deal with the trauma to the chest.
Costochondritis is not to be confused with Tietze's Syndrome, which has mainly the same symptoms but also includes swelling in the chest area along the sternum (and sometimes part of the sternum). If you do end up with costochondritis, make sure to use anti-inflammatory medicine and reduce your use of the muscles and joints in the chest, especially lifting and extended movements while you heal. Alternative medicines and therapies would include ginger root for the inflammation and acupuncture and massage to help aid in healing. Cortisone injections may be used if the pain persists over time and does not go away (especially after a year or more, or sometimes even after six months).
Costochondritis is not an easy condition to treat, due to the inability to prevent movement and irritation during healing. You use your chest muscles even to breathe, so there is no way to keep the area still while it heals. Do not be surprised once you get costochondritis if it lasts for up to a year or more, depending on the extent of the injury and how fast your body heals.