What is costochondritis?

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Costochondritis in children: Overview

Costochondritis means the cartilage of the rib cage gets swollen and inflamed. This causes pain in the chest. But it is not a heart problem. The pain may last from days to weeks.

Sometimes this problem happens when a child has a cold or the flu. Other times, doctors don't know what caused it.


Costochondritis is an inflammation of the joints formed by the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone (sternum). The inflammation may be caused by an injury to the chest, but often the reason for the inflammation is not known.

Common symptoms of costochondritis may include:

  • Sudden, severe pain and soreness in the chest, usually around the breastbone.
  • Pain that increases when pressure is applied to a specific area of the breastbone where the cartilage connects the ribs.
  • Pain that increases with coughing, sneezing, or deep breathing, all of which move the cartilage or the ribs.

The discomfort of costochondritis may last for days or weeks. Treatment includes rest, warm compresses, and the use of anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen or naproxen).

How can you care for yourself when you have costochondritis?

  • Take medicines for pain and inflammation exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • It may help to use a warm compress or heating pad (set on low) on your chest. You can also try alternating heat and ice. Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Avoid any activity that strains the chest area. As your pain gets better, you can slowly return to your normal activities.
  • Do not use tape, an elastic bandage, a "rib belt," or anything else that restricts your chest wall motion.

Costochondritis in children: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever or cough.
  • Your child has trouble breathing.
  • Your child's chest pain gets worse.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child is taking anti-inflammatory medicine but still has chest pain.
  • Your child's chest pain is not getting better after 5 to 7 days.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.