You get a pain in your chest. It’s either sharp and stabbing or a dull constriction feeling. It kind of hurts to breathe and if you wear a bra, that thing is suddenly very uncomfortable. You will probably freak out the first time. I sure as hell did. Then you go to the ER and they do X-rays and an EKG and they run tests. They may just send you home or keep you for observation. But if they don’t find anything wrong with your heart or lungs, then what the hell is happening?
First of all, NEVER (even after you have a diagnosis of a chronic pain condition and/or costochondritis) cast off chest pain that seems unusual, sudden, or scary as just being costochondritis. It’s better to deal with the ER run around than to ignore a potentially dangerous medical issue. I just need to get that out there. You may have read a lot online, you may have even taken courses and received degrees and certifications (as I have), you may even be a medical professional, but only medical testing and rule out something more serious like a heart issue or respiratory issue.
Now that we have that out of the way and it is certain it isn’t your heart or lungs, what is it? Costochondritis was first explained to me as something similar to arthritis but in the chest cavity. It occurs when the cartilage around your ribs and sternum becomes inflamed. There is no definitive cause, but it is very common in chronic pain conditions such as Fibromyalgia, Lupus, and CRPS. There is no cure, except rest, relaxation, and an anti-inflammatory medication (if you are able to take any) such as Ibuprofen.
What should you do in a costochondritis flare-up?
- This is the hardest part, RELAX. The more stressed or anxious you are, the faster your breathe, the faster your heart pumps and the more the swelling intensifies. You have to find a way to chill out. Put on a movie you can sink into or play a casual video game or read a book, put your focus somewhere else. Aromatherapy, massage (if that is something you can stand), cannabis (if it is something you use and partake in), whatever it takes to be calm and to keep your breathing and heart rate steady and neutral.
- Take off constricting clothing. Yes, your bra. Fling it, throw it, bury it, put it in the couch cushions or your bedroom floor, whatever you have to do just take that damn thing off. It will only make it substantially worse.
- Relax in a reclined position but not flat on your back. Reclining can help you be more relaxed but allows you to be propped up enough so you can breathe comfortably, have a regulated heart beat, and not add unnecessary pressure to your chest cavity.
- Do not overindulge in food or drink. A full tummy means a fuller abdomen and more stress and strain on the chest.
Costochondritis can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. It sucks, there isn’t much you can do about it, and the world of medicine are still scratching their heads. Big gentle hugs and I hope you are able to get some benefit from this advice.