Costochondritis is an inflammatory condition that affects the junctions of the ribs at the upper breastbone, or sternum.
It can cause mild to moderate pain in most people and the exact cause isn’t known. While it occurs most commonly in children ages 12-14, it can affect people of any other age. It affects more women (70%) than men (30%).
The exact cause of costochondritis isn’t always easily diagnosed. Repeated trauma to the chest (boxing, tackling, etc.), excess use of the arms (rowing, pushups, strength training, etc) is the most likely causes, as is infection following a surgery in that area or coughing from a viral infection.
Regardless, the ribs-sternal junctions become inflamed and painful. It’s important to rule out other causes, and to find out if there are other inflammatory conditions in the body that are contributing to it.
Because the only symptom of costochondritis is pain at the rib and sternal junction, its often confused with the chest pain of heart disease, and its important that detailed testing be carried out to differentiate the two.
Another condition that costochondritis gets confused with is something called Tietze syndrome – this condition has similar pain patterns, but the cartilage where the ribs join the sternum can be swollen and it comes on very suddenly, without any history of trauma or overuse to the area. Oftentimes the diagnosis of costochondritis and Tietze’s syndrome are used interchangeably, however they are considered two distinct conditions (with similar lack of understanding of cause!)
Costochondritis typically affects the 4 th, 5 th and 6 th ribs; but it can affect others as well. While we don’t typically think of the sternum and ribs as a joint, they are and when they need to move and are inflamed, this causes the pain. It’s usually mild but can also be very painful as well. Remember in costochondritis there’s no localized swelling, while in Tietze’s syndrome there is.
Because costochondritis is an inflammatory condition, it may or may not have other contributing causes. If you have an inflammatory condition going on elsewhere in your body, it may be possible that costochondritis is caused by a ripple effect from the other condition. Consuming inflammatory foods may also be contributory.
In the clinic we always run a 96-food IgG Food Sensitivity panel to determine whether the foods a person is eating are contributing to the inflammation.
Identifying and removing inflammatory foods along with a couple natural anti-inflammatories and fish oil can help resolve costochondritis and keep it from recurring (as it can) without trashing your gut with NSAIDs or other more powerful prescription anti-inflammatory drugs.