What Is Costochondritis?

Medically Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on September 02, 2020

If you have sudden chest pain, always have it checked out by a doctor to make sure your heart is healthy.

Chest pain isn’t always serious. It could be caused by a mostly harmless condition called costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage that connects your ribs to your breastbone. If you press on your upper ribs and it feels tender, you may have it. One study found that 30% of those complaining of chest pain had costochondritis. 

While costochondritis is a common cause of chest pain, injury, physical strain, respiratory infection, rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis, chest wall infections, tumors, or rare conditions like relapsing polychondritis may also cause chest pain.

Costochondritis affects both children and adults, and it’s more common in women and Hispanics.



There isn’t one known cause of costochondritis. It’s often triggered by strenuous exercise or strain from severe coughing. It can also be brought on by an infection from chest surgery or intravenous, or IV, drug use.



Chest wall pain is a main symptom. Most people describe the pain as sharp, achy, and pressure-like. It usually gets worse if you breathe deeply or move your upper body.

When you press on your chest, it feels tender and painful.

The pain usually lasts for a few weeks or months, but about a third of those with costochondritis will have it for about a year.


Your doctor will do a physical exam, pressing on your chest to check for areas of tenderness. They will also take a look at your range of motion and listen to your breathing. If you’re over 35, at risk for coronary artery disease, a blood clot, or you recently had a respiratory infection, your doctor may order additional tests like a chest X-ray and EKG to rule out more serious problems.

How Is It Treated?

Your doctor will focus on pain relief, and will probably recommend one or more of the following:

  • Pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Hot compresses or a heating pad to the area
  • No physical activities that make the pain get worse

Your doctor may also give you information on how to improve your posture and fix any muscle imbalances.

If the pain won’t go away, your doctor may give you a shot of an anti-inflammatory medicine, or corticosteroid, in the area that hurts.

Show Sources


American Family Physician: “Costochondritis: Diagnosis and Treatment.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Standard of Care: Costochondritis.”

Disla, E. Archives of Internal Medicine, November 1994.

Nowicki, J. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, February 2016.

Crawford, S. IDCases, April 2016.

Gandhi, V. Emergency Medicine Journal, August 2012.

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