Rib cage pain – whether on the left or right hand side – can occur for many reasons. It could be inflammaton of the cartilage that join that joins your ribs to your breastbone (sternum). This area is known as the costochondral joint.
Costochondritis is the medical term.
Cartilage is tough but flexible connective tissue found throughout the body, including in the joints between bones. It acts as a shock absorber, cushioning the joints.
Costochondritis may improve on its own after a few weeks, although it can last for several months or more. The condition doesn’t lead to any permanent problems, but may sometimes relapse.
Signs and symptoms
When the costochondral joint becomes inflamed it can result in sharp chest pain and tenderness, which may develop gradually or start suddenly.
The pain may be made worse by:
- a particular posture – such as lying down
- pressure on your chest – such as wearing a seatbelt or hugging someone
- deep breathing, coughing and sneezing
- physical activity
Causes of costochondritis
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection, irritation or injury.
It’s not known exactly why the costochondral joint becomes inflamed, but in some cases it’s been linked to:
- an injury to your chest
- physical strain from repeated exercise or sudden exertion that you’re not used to – such as moving furniture
- wear and tear – your chest moves in and out 20 to 30 times a minute, and over time this motion can lead to discomfort in these joints
If you have symptoms of costochondritis, your doctor will examine and touch the upper chest area around your costochondral joint. They’ll ask you when and where your pain occurs and look at your recent medical history.
Before a diagnosis can be confirmed, a chest x-ray may need to be carried to check the cause of your chest pain.
Taking a type of medication called a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) can also help control the pain and swelling.
Corticosteroids are powerful medicines that can help reduce pain and swelling. They can be injected into and around your costochondral joint to help relieve the symptoms of costochondritis.
Corticosteroid injections may be recommended if your pain is severe, or if NSAIDs are unsuitable or ineffective.
They may be given by your doctor.