Costochondritis arises when the cartilage linking each rib to the sternum becomes inflamed. It is a very common chest condition, especially in young adults, which can sometimes result from trauma to the chest that can be sustained during sports activities.
The primary symptom will be chest pain; gently pressing on the cartilage over the ribcage using your fingers should replicate this pain, which is often most prominent around the highest two or three ribs. Other movements and involuntary actions like sneezing or coughing can cause the pain to flare up. Occasionally this stinging can spread to the arm. It is worth remembering that chest pain can point to many different problems including serious heart conditions and should always be checked by a doctor.
Costochondritis has many potential causes, and in some cases it is not clear precisely what may have lead to the condition. However there are certain recurring factors which point to probable causes. One of these is sustaining repeated injuries to the chest from hard blows during physical activities. Such trauma, which can arise during contact sports as a result of collisions, or in other activities due to a projectile like a cricket ball, can significantly increase the chances of costochondritis. Other frequent strain to the ribcage can also be a contributing factor, as can chest infections, whether respiratory, fungal or bacterial. The chest is particularly susceptible to infection following chest surgery.
Distinction from Tietze's Syndrome
The condition is often confused with Tietze's syndrome, but the two can be distinguished. Unlike costochondritis, the pain of Tietze's syndrome is accompanied by swelling in the area. Also the chest pain will strike suddenly, regularly moving to the arms and shoulders, and lasts considerably longer than costochondritis.
Treatment and Management
Although costochondritis itself should not cause you any major trouble apart from a period of pain, it is important to consult a doctor so that they can make sure that you are suffering from this condition and not a heart or other chest problem. Heart disease, for instance, can cause similar chest pains. Having ascertained that your condition is costochondritis, however, they are likely to inform you that it should heal without any medical treatment. In the meantime you should rest from any activities which could aggravate the injury, such as participating in contact sports or activities requiring vigorous chest motions. To manage the symptoms you should take ordinary pain medication, checking with the doctor if you are unsure; anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen is effective.
If the pain has not diminished within a few weeks then it is worth seeing the doctor again to update them. Report any new symptoms or greater pains you have experienced in case the original diagnosis was incorrect or needs to be modified. They may conduct a series of tests to search for other possible chest conditions.