Oh the elusive symptom of chest pain. If you have a chronic illness, especially dysautonomia, you likely have been plagued by chest pain symptoms at some time or another. But if you have had extensive cardiac workups and have been assured the cause of your chest pain is not cardiac in origin by your healthcare provider, you might consider learning about costochondritis.

Costochondritis is an inflammatory disorder of the cartilage where your ribs meet your sternum, or breastbone. It can feel like you have pain in your chest wall or in the middle of your chest and let me say, it’s not too pleasant at times.

For me, the pain usually feels dull and heavy and gets worse when I cough or breathe in deeply. These symptoms are typical for costochondritis. If I stretch my back out, I can hear crackling sounds of my cartilage along the sternum, which sometimes helps with the pain. When I press down along the sides of my sternum, I can make the pain worse– another sign pointing to costochondritis.

Luckily, the pain usually goes away on its own. Unluckily, there is not much you can do for it and it can take days to months to go away. If your healthcare provider has ruled out cardiac issues, you can try anti-inflammatory medication (like Aspirin), reducing strain to the area, and a hot compress to help alleviate the pain.  Again, make sure to talk with your doctor before starting any new medications.


But what causes costochondritis pain in the first place?

Costochondritis is another elusive cause of chest pain: the causes are not always clear. However, it has been shown that chest injuries, chest strains, illnesses with extreme coughing, arthritis, joint infections, and even some tumors can cause costo-related pain. More than likely, if you have chronic illnesses that reduce your mobility, it is caused by bad posture (think of all that time sitting slumped on the bed).

A few years ago, I was at a model United Nations conference and began having a dull chest pain that wouldn’t go away. It felt like it was getting harder to breathe and I started worrying about what it could possibly be, as I was only 22 years old! An hour, an X-Ray and an EKG later, the urgent care doctor told me it was just anxiety (umm.. OK)– go home and sleep it off.

But who would have known that sleeping, particularly where I was sleeping, was actually what was exacerbating my symptoms! After fixing a major problem with my bed mattress, some gentle stretching, and banning myself from sitting slumped in bed too long, my costo-related chest pain was greatly reduced.

So if you are watching Netflix, find that your chest pain is getting worse and know it’s not cardiac in origin, try sitting up straight, doing some gentle stretches, and consider costochondritis as a source of your chest pain.

Costochondritis Resources

  1. Mayo Clinic Costochondritis Fact Sheet
  2. Costochondritis Support Group
  3. Costochondritis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
  4. Dysautonomia Can Only Take Away So Much: Caffeine Alternatives That Will Make You Believe in Humanity Again (If caffeine is a trigger for you)