Costochondritis - Symptoms

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 25 Jan 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr John Cox, 25 Jan 2017

  • Costochondritis causes chest pain, felt at the front of the chest.
  • Typically, it is sharp and stabbing in nature and can be quite severe.
  • The pain is worse with movement, exertion and deep breathing.
  • Pressure over the affected area also causes sharp pain.
  • Some people may feel an aching pain.
  • The pain is usually confined (localised) to a small area but it can spread (radiate) to a wider area.
  • The pain tends to wax and wane and it can settle with a change of position and quiet, shallow breathing.

The most common sites of pain are close to the breastbone (sternum), at the level of the 4th, 5th and 6th ribs.

Note: without tenderness, the cause of the chest pain is unlikely to be costochondritis. Remember to seek medical advice if you are unsure of the cause of your symptoms (see the section on 'when to see a doctor').

Tietze's syndrome is similar to costochondritis. The two conditions are often (wrongly) used interchangeably. Tietze's syndrome is, however, a different condition. It causes similar symptoms, is still due to inflammation but tends to also cause swelling at the costochondral, costosternal or sternoclavicular joints. If you have costochondritis, there is nothing there to actually see.

Bornholm disease is another similar condition. However, it is caused by a viral illness and leads to muscle aches and pains, as well as chest pain. Coxsackievirus B is the usual cause of Bornholm disease (although echovirus and Coxsackievirus A can be responsible). See separate leaflet called Bornholm Disease for more details.

There is no particular person more at risk of costochondritis than any other. It does tend to affect younger people, especially teenagers and young adults. It can affect children. People performing repetitive movements that strain the chest wall, particularly if they are not used to it, as above, might be more at risk of getting this condition. Some studies suggest women tend to be affected more commonly than men.

People with fibromyalgia tend to develop costochondritis more often than others. Fibromyalgia is a long-term (chronic) condition that causes widespread body pains and fatigue. See separate leaflet called Fibromyalgia for more details.

Further reading and references

  • Proulx AM, Zryd TW; Costochondritis: diagnosis and treatment. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Sep 1580(6):617-20.

  • Chest Pain; NICE CKS, April 2015 (UK access only)

  • McConaghy JR, Oza RS; Outpatient diagnosis of acute chest pain in adults. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Feb 187(3):177-82.

  • Gijsbers E, Knaap SF; Clinical presentation and chiropractic treatment of Tietze syndrome: A 34-year-old female with left-sided chest pain. J Chiropr Med. 2011 Mar10(1):60-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2010.10.002. Epub 2011 Jan 21.

I have experienced symptoms of this syndrome for sometime, but have only recently received a diagnosis.As well as symptoms of pain in the chest, neck and arms I have also been experiencing an...

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