Costochondritis - Symptoms

What are the symptoms of costochondritis?

  • 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.

Who develops costochondritis?

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.

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  • 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 1 87(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 Mar 10(1):60-3. doi: 10.1016/j.jcm.2010.10.002. Epub 2011 Jan 21.
Author:
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Document ID:
13605 (v4)
Last Checked:
25 January 2017
Next Review:
25 January 2020

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.