Chest Pain following Flu or Cold
In recent years Flu and bacterial infection – such a Cold – seem to be more disruptive to our nation’s health and are getting increasingly difficult to shake. Once the severe stage of these illnesses have been allayed, many sufferers are experiencing debilitating chest pain – extending suffering further. During the “Flu season” our clinic has received a significant increase in the number of patient complaining of chest pain following a flu or cold – mainly during the recovery phase of these infections. Osteopathy has been beneficial in helping these patients.
Symptoms of Chest Pain following Flu or Cold
Our patients have reported acute pain at various locations in the chest wall. The chest wall is boarded by the collar bones, down to the start of the abdominal area. To each side are the ribs which extend from the spine at the back of to the breast bone at the front.
Due to the location – our patients, in these case, have been caused some distress as pain is easily aggravated by motion of the rib cage, the back and the shoulders. Normal inhalation and exhalation (breathing in and out) – which must continue is the main aggravating factor. Deep breathing, coughing or sneezing, causes increasing discomfort. Getting comfortable at night has also been reported to us as problematic.
How does Chest Pain Occur as a result of Flu or Cold?
Joint and muscle pain in the chest or spine caused by Viral Infection
Viruses may cause joint pain through a number of mechanisms that depend on various factors such as your gender, age, genetics, infectious history, and immune response. The joints of the ribcage include the costo-chondral joints with the breast bone at the front of the body, the costo-vertebral joints – where the ribs attach to the spine, and for the purpose of this specific complaint, we would also include the upper back section of the spine.
Viruses are able to initiate rheumatic symptoms through different mechanisms. The presence of the virus and its injury to tissue elicits the process of inflammation which can cause swelling, pain, heat and redness over the affected joint. This is referred to as reactive arthritis, which is self limiting and should resolve on its own. Depending on your immune system – this complication will last longer in some individuals compared to others.
Reactive arthiris is an autoimmune condition that develops due to an infection. It can affect people of all ages,including children. Research suggests you are more likely to develop this condition if you have a particular gene, HLA-B27.
Patients with pre-existing joint injury or dysfunction may notice an increase in symptoms after an infection due to a naturally occurring chemical called cytokines which helps to fight the infection. This causes inflammation in the joints and muscles which results in pain. If there is an area that is already weak due to local dysfunction, this area tends to be more probalmatic when suffering from an infection.
Chest Pain caused by repeated coughing or sneezing
The process of coughing or sneezing requires movement from the all components of the chest wall – the joints at the front and back of the ribcage, the spine, the muscles between the individual ribs and even muscles in the neck which assist in the elevation of the ribcage. There is a huge coordination of muscles and joints, triggered by a reflex to eliminate the irritants caused by infection. Given the lightning speed of the cough and sneeze – the huge coordination effort, and the fact that it is happening repeatedly while you are ill – this rapid action can cause repetitive strain to the soft tissues involved – i.e. muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint surfaces.
Some patients may have pre-existing joint or tissue dysfunction in the chest wall or spine, which they may or may not be aware of. Therefore they have sub-optimised mechanics for repeated coughing and sneezing and therefore at greater risk of this kind of injury. This is true of anyone who has a desk bound job or any other reason for a weak upper body posture.
Pain may also be felt in the upper back, lower back, neck and shoulders as a result of flu or cold.
Chest pain caused by Intercostal muscle spasm
Repeated use of the muscles in and around the ribcage can result in tightened fibres and spasm. As a consequence this causes irritation to the nerves positioned between the ribs (intercostal spaces). This repetitive motion of sneezing and/ or coughing requires the ribcage to work harder than usual. Also, muscles can become stiff during an enforced period of bed rest, thus increasing the risk of injury.
If you have intercostal muscle spasm, you may experience:
– Pain underneath or between the shoulder blades
– Pain that radiates around the side into the chest
– Pain that occurs when sneezing or coughing
– Pain in the upper thoracic (upper-mid back) or lower cervical regions (neck).
Central Chest Pain
Central chest pain is commonly referred to as costochondritis. This condition arises due to inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage and usually affects the cartilage where the upper ribs attach on to the sternum (breastbone). Individuals suffering from this condition may experience mild symptoms which can cause the chest to feel tender to touch or some pain when pressure is applied on the chest cartilage. However, in some cases the symptoms may be severe and cause radiating pain down limbs and debilitating chest pain which can intefere with an individuals daily life. Patients with pain at the front of the chest wall will find working at a desk very painful.
Osteopathy Approach to chest pain following flu or cold
At the clinic we would first seek to establish the cause of the chest pain or any other pain felt to be caused as a result of the recent bout of flu or cold. Pain that is caused by the Rheumatoid or other bio-chemical affects of the cold /flu should be allowed to run their course. Pain killers such as paracetamol may be useful, consult with a pharmacist or GP if you are on other medication. We would advise that you remain hydrated to facilitate your recovery
Pain that is caused by mechanical dysfunction – as described the latter 3 sections above – can be treated at our clinic. Our techniques will help alleviate the symptoms of muscles spasm or joint pain caused by repetitive strain and / or prolonged bed rest.
We will also give you prescription of gentle exercises to help your recovery and advised on nutrition if necessary.
Call the clinic for advice or to book an appointment if you are suffering any pain following a bout of the flu or cold. You may also use our contact form and we will respond with a call or email within 48 hours of receipt. Appointments can also be booked online.