Costochondritis is an inflammation in the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone. It can cause sharp chest pain and tenderness, similar to the feeling you may get from a heart, lung or tummy problem.
Although it usually gets better after a few weeks, it can sometimes last longer.
If you suddenly develop chest pain or have other symptoms of a heart attack, call an ambulance on triple zero (000).
What is costochondritis?
Costochondritis is an inflammation in the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone. It is also called chest wall pain or costosternal syndrome.
There is usually no obvious cause. Sometimes it can be due to:
- a lot of coughing
- a chest injury
- physical strain from exercise or lifting something heavy
- an infection
- a tumour
Costochondritis causes a sharp, aching or pressure pain and tenderness in your chest. The pain often gets worse:
- if you cough, sneeze or breathe deeply
- if you move
- if you put pressure on your chest by using a tight seatbelt or hugging someone
The symptoms may develop gradually or start suddenly. The pain is usually on the left side of your breastbone and affects more than one rib.
It might feel like you’re having a heart attack. If you are in doubt, see your doctor as soon as possible. If you have chest pain and have trouble breathing, feel sick or are sweaty, dial triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
Costochondritis is sometimes confused with a rare condition called Tietze syndrome, which has similar symptoms but also causes chest swelling.
Read more about causes of chest pain.
Costochondritis usually gets better by itself. While you have the condition, avoid activities that aggravate it, such as reaching up into a high cupboard or strenuous exercise.
You can ease the pain by:
- avoiding strenuous activity
- applying a heat pack
- gentle stretching
- taking non-prescription painkillers such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen
Your doctor may suggest corticosteroid injections into the joint or prescribe other medicines if your symptoms don’t ease.
Last reviewed: February 2019