What is it?

Costochondritis is a painful condition of the chest wall, caused by inflammation of the cartilage between the joints that attach the ribs to the sternum (breastbone).  The joints between the ribs and the cartilage are called costochondral joints, hence the name costochondritis.  It usually settles overtime, is not a serious condition and often has no obvious cause.  Costochondritis has been known to start after an activity that you are not used to e.g. lots of decorating or moving furniture or constant severe coughing straining the chest wall.  The pain of this condition is usually worse with movement, deep breathing or pressure and can be sharp or stabbing in nature.  As the pain is often quite severe many people become anxious and worried about the cause of pain, fearing that it might be due to something more serious.

Costochondritis should not be mixed up with Tietze’s syndrome. This is a similar condition that is also due to inflammation, but frequently causes swelling at the costochondral, costosternal or sterno-clavicular joints.

What we do?

Costochondritis is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms and an examination.  This is where our highly skilled team of Physiotherapists at The Physiotherapy Academy can help you. 

It is important that other causes of chest pain are ruled out.  Usually no tests are needed to diagnose this condition, however tests may be needed to rule out other conditions and pathology.  If this was the case, we could speak with your General Practitioner or medical insurance company to assist in this process.  Examples of these tests may include chest x-rays or ECGs.

What the benefits are?

The benefits of seeing a Physiotherapist are early prompt diagnosis and advice.  We can then help you to settle the condition to allow a full and timely return to normal activities, work and hobbies.

How we can help?

Medication forms a large part of treatment for this condition.  Usually simple painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication is sufficient.  In extreme cases referral onto a pain consultant may be needed for an intercostal nerve block.  At The Physiotherapy Academy we work very closely with local pain specialist experts and can discuss your case with them if needed.

There is also a range of non-medical measures that physiotherapists can use to try and reduce the pain of costochondritis.  These include acupuncture, gentle stretching exercises, heat pads, TENS and activity modification strategies.

If the condition is not settling as expected, physiotherapy can help identify the cause of the condition rather than just treating the symptoms.  Often there may be too much movement at the costochondral joints due to poor flexibility of the thoracic spine.  Therefore every time you take a breath in, your stiff thoracic spine makes the sternal attachment of your ribs move excessively and become irritated.  The physiotherapists at The Physiotherapy Academy can help to diagnose and treat this.

What should you do?

Any movement that places a stress on your chest region can aggravate Costochondritis.  Therefore any activity that causes your pain should be avoided until the condition settles.

You may find it soothing to apply heat to the painful area – for example, using a warm hot water bottle.

To arrange an appointment or speak to a physiotherapist, call or email on:

Southend on Sea: 01702 521 042 or
Chelmsford: 01245 254 069 or

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