The medical term for inflammation of the cartilage that joins your ribs to your breastbone (sternum) is Costochondritis. 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.
The area of cartilage joining your ribs to your breastbone is known as the costochondral joint.
Common Causes of Rib Cage Pain
Costochondritis can sometimes be confused with a separate condition called Tietze’s syndrome, as it also involves inflammation of the costochondral joint and can cause very similar symptoms.
However, Tietze’s syndrome is much less common than costochondritis, and it tends to cause chest swelling in addition to the other symptoms, whereas costochondritis does not.
The rest of this topic focuses on costochondritis but, as the conditions are very similar, most of the information also applies to Tietze’s syndrome.
Sore Ribs During Pregnancy
In the third trimester of pregnancy (for some women a little earlier) you may experience sore or painful ribs, which can range from mild discomfort to extremely sore. The pain and soreness is caused by pressure from the top of your growing uterus, as well as baby kicking or punching the area. Sore ribs are usually on the side of the baby’s position and can be felt just below the breasts. You’ll probably find that your ribs are more painful when sitting, moreso when leaning forward.
The fundus (the top of your uterus) is at it’s highest at around 36 weeks of pregnancy (reaching just below the breastbone), then baby drops into your pelvic cavity in preparation for birth. This usually provides some much appreciated relief! But until then, the discomfort usually continues.
We helped Dave, a 20 year old mechanic with rib cage pain. Dave complained about stabbing pains in his chest. After ruling out any lung or heart disease, his case history revealed that a recurrent winter chest infection and constantly heavy lifting had conspired to restrict the joints in his upper back and strain the muscles and ligaments in his ribcage. Dave had significant improvement after 3 treatments aimed at mobilizing his neck, upper back, and ribcage. He was given an exercises program and advice regarding lifting.
Signs and symptoms
When the costochondral joint becomes inflamed, it can result in sharp chest pain and tenderness.
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
- In cases of Tietze’s syndrome, there may also be some swelling.
These symptoms can develop gradually or start suddenly.