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General Information

DEFINITION--An inflammation of the cartilage of one or more ribs, most commonly the second or third ribs. The pain that results is often intensified by movements that change the position of the ribs, such as lying down, bending over, coughing or sneezing. Pain may mimic that of coronary artery disease.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Cartilage of one or more ribs.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--More common in young adults, but can occur in any age group.


  • Pain in the chest wall, usually sharp in nature.
  • Pain worsens with movement.
  • Pain may occur in more than one location and may radiate into the arm.
  • Tightness in the chest.
  • Affected area is sensitive to the touch.

CAUSES--Inflammation of the cartilage that attaches ribs to the sternum. Cause of the inflammation is often unknown.


  • Trauma, such as a severe blow to the chest.
  • Unusual physical activity.
  • Upper respiratory infection.

HOW TO PREVENT--Avoidance of activities that may strain or cause trauma to the rib cage.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and physical exam by a doctor.

APPROPRIATE HEALTH CARE--Self-care after diagnosis.


PROBABLE OUTCOME--Complete healing. The disorder is benign and the course is usually of a short duration.

How To Treat


  • Heating pad or ice massage applied to the affected area (whichever feels best).
  • Avoidance of sudden movements that will intensify the pain.


  • You may use mild pain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen to help relieve discomfort.
  • Your doctor may prescribe stronger pain medicines or steroid injections (rare).

ACTIVITY--As tolerated. Rest is important.

DIET--No special diet.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of costochondritis.
  • New or unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may cause side effects.
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