Costochondritis, a condition causing pain in the chest wall, can seem like an unwelcome guest in our lives, one that overstays its welcome. It’s a condition characterized by inflammation in the cartilage connecting our ribs to our sternum, the breastbone. This is not a life-threatening issue, but it certainly can make life less enjoyable due to the discomfort it causes. The condition is more frequently observed in women and individuals aged over 40. Here, we will discuss what costochondritis is, its symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and, importantly, the best stretches to manage and alleviate the pain it causes.
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Causes of Costochondritis
Quite perplexingly, many cases of costochondritis do not have an identifiable cause. However, certain events have been linked to the onset of this condition:
- Direct injury to the chest wall, such as from contact sports, car accidents, or even a tight bear hug
- Repetitive strain of the ribs, like from frequent overhead activity, coughing, or weight lifting
- Wearing bras that fit too tightly, especially those with underwire supports
Less common causes of chest wall pain include rheumatic diseases, infections, and rare occurrences of tumors.
Symptoms of Costochondritis to Look Out For
For individuals living with costochondritis, the symptoms can be quite distressing. The pain is usually sharp but can also be dull and gnawing. Often, the pain radiates to the abdomen or back. Located on one side of the sternum, it can also affect both sides. Activities that put pressure on the inflamed cartilage or stretch it, such as deep breaths, sneezing, laughing, and bending, can exacerbate the pain.
Interestingly, chest wall pain can be confused with heart pain as they can both be intense. However, unlike heart pain, the discomfort from costochondritis can often be reproduced by pushing on the chest wall.
When swelling accompanies the pain of costochondritis, it is referred to as Tietze’s Syndrome, for which treatment is similar.
Identifying costochondritis is based primarily on the patient’s symptoms and physical examination results. While lab tests and chest X-rays are usually not necessary, they can be used to exclude other causes of chest pain. Sometimes, to rule out heart-related problems, an electrocardiogram is performed.
Treatment Options for Costochondritis
The resolution of costochondritis often occurs without treatment. However, symptoms can take weeks to months to completely disappear. With the cause of costochondritis frequently unknown, treatment is generally aimed at controlling pain.
Patients are advised to avoid activities that intensify the pain. Modifications to exercise routines or work duties might be necessary. Contact sports should be avoided until symptoms have subsided. Incorporating gentle exercises, such as walking and swimming, along with stretching, can help alleviate symptoms. However, it’s essential to stop any exercise or stretch that worsens the pain.
Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen, naproxen, and acetaminophen are commonly used to decrease pain. Pain-relieving creams and numbing patches can also prove helpful. If over-the-counter pain medications do not suffice, prescription medications might be recommended. In severe cases, steroid injections might be considered.
5 Stretches for Costochondritis
The following are some of the stretches recommended specifically for individuals with a confirmed diagnosis of costochondritis:
- Doorway Stretch: Stand facing an open doorway. Raise your arms to the sides and bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle. Rest your forearm against the wall, lean forward through the doorway, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat ten times.
- Foam Roller or Rolled Towel Stretch: Lie down with a foam roller or rolled towel under your mid-back. Hold this pose for 20 seconds, then rest. Repeat ten times.
- Stability Ball Stretch: While sitting on a stability ball, roll down until your upper back is on the ball. Relax your arms to the sides; they should drop below your body. Hold the pose for 60 seconds, then relax. Repeat ten times.
- Sphinx Pose: Lie on your stomach while supporting yourself on your elbows. Open your chest, stretching up and backward. Hold this pose for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat ten times.
- Lateral Flexion: Sit with your right arm raised above your head. Lean gently to the left and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the opposite side, completing ten cycles.
Remember to perform these stretches once daily for six weeks, then three times a week for six additional weeks. Always apply heat to the costochondral area for at least five minutes immediately before and after stretching.
Costochondritis can be a painful and distressing condition. However, with the correct diagnosis and effective management strategies, it can be controlled and eventually resolved. Following a regular routine of the recommended stretches can aid in relieving symptoms and improving the overall quality of life. Keep in mind that immediate medical attention should be sought if any of these exercises increase pain.