Treating Costochondritis with the Backpod

Costochondritis is an inflammatory condition in the chest area that causes anxiety and chronic pain for many people who suffer every day. The inflammation occurs in the cartilage where the ribs are joined to the sternum, and pain typically gets worse with deep breathing or applying pressure. Though costochondritis can be mistaken for other conditions that cause chest pain, costochondritis is straightforward to diagnose and the symptoms of costochondritis are well understood. Costochondritis is one of the most common diagnoses for adults that visit the emergency room for chest pain.

What is the Backpod?

Though most medical literature describes the cause of costochondritis as typically “unknown”, a physical therapist from New Zealand named Steve August claims that the true cause of costochondritis is simple and actually originates in the back where the ribs attach to the spine. Mr. August describes the ribs as operating similar to a “bucket handle”, if you can imagine a standard 5-gallon bucket, with your ribs hinging on joints on the sternum and spine. The ribs move up and down as you breath and move your body, similar to the hinging on a bucket handle. August explains that the joints attaching the rib to the spin can “freeze up”, which causes the sensitive rib joints and cartilage in the chest to have to work harder in this circumstance, which causes the resulting inflammation and pain of costochondritis. If the joints where the ribs meet the spine can be “unfrozen” over time, then the overworked costosternal joints in the chest can go back to normal, eventually curing the pain from costochondritis.

The joints in the back (costovertebral) can become immobile due to a variety of reasons such as exercise, trauma, chest or back surgery, slipped ribs as well as other conditions like asthma, scoliosis, and ankylosing spondylitis. The rib joints in the chest and back can also get jammed up from what has been called the “iHunch” in the media – essentially poor posture caused by leaning over your phone or laptop, neck down and hunched over with poor posture.

Based on his experience practicing physiotherapy in New Zealand, Mr. August invented a device called the “Backpod”, a small, specially-designed, rubber and plastic medical device shaped like half of a football, which can be used to stretch out and “un-freeze” the posterior rib joints.

How can the Backpod help costochondritis?

The Backpod claims to have the perfect shape, size, and consistency to fix costochondritis (among other conditions). Mr. August claims that other medical treatments simply temporarily resolve the inflammation or mask the symptoms of costochondritis, rather than attacking and permanently resolving the cause.

For treating costochondritis, the user lies down on the device with it placed about 2 inches (5 cm) to the left or right of the spine – where the ribs meet the spine. The Backpod works to treat costochondritis by stretching out the collagen in the area around the frozen rib joints in the back, allowing the ribs to move more freely similar to a “bucket hinge” as previously described. As the costoverterbral joints in the back are able to move more freely, the resulting chest pain is reduced.

Importantly, the instructions and website for the Backpod also note that the device can be used to treat Tietze’s syndrome, which has similar symptoms to costochondritis.

How do you use the Backpod?

The Backpod uses your own bodyweight to apply pressure and stretch hard-to-reach areas in your back. To use the Backpod for costochondritis relief, you lie down on the device placed lengthwise in the upper back between the midline of the spine and the interior side of the shoulder blade. The proper placement is about 2 inches (or 5 cm for the rest of the world) to the side of the spine. It’s recommended to place several pillows under your head before use, and to place a towel over the top of the Backpod to make the stretches more comfortable at first. Further, it is not recommended to use the Backpod above the ribcage, near your neck, or in the lower back, beneath the rib cage.

For costochondritis, the Backpod should be used for about 10 minutes every day, switching the position of the device side-to-side, horizontally across the back every 30-60 seconds. It’s not really that difficult to understand, though it can be pretty painful at first. The pain will ease up over time, and using the towel definitely helps.

For costochondritis, the instructions recommend to continue using the Backpod on a weekly basis after you’re pain free or if the joints feel like they’re becoming frozen up again. For difficult cases, combining the Backpod with a stretching routine and treatment from a specialist (such as a physical therapist or chiropractor) can be effective.

Be sure to read the instructions for more information and tips. Below is a video that shows how to appropriately use the Backpod:

Is the Backpod worth it?

I can personally attest to it’s usefulness, at a minimum, having watched my fiancĂ©e use the Backpod for several months while she was experiencing costochondritis pain. The Backpod did provide a degree of almost instant relief for her after just a day or two of usage. However, the pain did return and came back even stronger for her, eventually requiring medical intervention – probably because her costochondritis was caused by cancer. Surprise, the Backpod does NOT cure cancer!

That said, some have a hard time justifying the cost of the Backpod. With the device currently retailing for $67.99 (I’ve seen prices up to $90 in the past!) – it’s easy to understand which looks like a Nerf ™ football cut in half! But, it’s worth a second thought, especially once you start to see the testimonials on YouTube, Reddit, and on Amazon from people who claim the Backpod has been a miracle cure for their costochondritis. A few examples (paraphrased):

“…best I have felt in a year.” (from Amazon.com)

“…like a mini-chiropractor” (from Amazon.com)

“…felt a significant improvement in my pain after just a few days.” (from Amazon.com)

“…since using, I haven’t experienced any pain at all.” (from reddit.com/r/costochondritis)

With claims like that, who can resist?

I think with the Backpod, you’re not buying the device so much as the program, the detailed instructions and videos (which, granted you can get for free off their website), the knowledge and daily stretching regimens that come with the device. The device claims to have the perfect shape, size, and hardness to fix costochondritis (among other conditions), and works better than commonly used items like foam rollers, tennis balls, or rolled-up towels. Having personally used the device, I can attest that it is quite sturdy (the instructions claim they have run over it with a truck!) – yet it has a sort of softness as well.

I can say you’re also buying the expertise and advice from the man himself, Steve August. You can see he is all over the YouTube videos, in the comments, as well as respond to Amazon reviews. Some users have even noted that Mr. August (inventor of the Backpod) even responds quickly to emails with questions about the product and conditions. While the device is slick, it’s hard to say if it is truly a miracle cure – it does have better ergonomics and I have no doubt it works better than a tennis ball.

What are other people saying about the Backpod?

Though I’ve used the device myself, and helped my fiancee use it for several months for her own costochondritis – it’s easy to understand why you might purchase the Backpod when you read what other people are saying about it:

“…my chest pain has diminished drastically.”

“…nothing works like the Backpod.

“…great (though simple) product that has been life changing for me.

“I never leave the house without it. …feel like a new person after using.

“Doctor diagnosed costochondritis… used for over a week… 95% back to normal.”

“I can say that it has helped me remain consistently pain free…”

Backpod – the cure for Costochondritis?

While the Backpod may have its detractors, there are certainly too many positive testimonials to ignore the potential effectiveness of the device. For many people, the chronic pain they get from costochondritis is so severe, it’s worth trying anything once. When an appointment with a chiropractor, physical therapist, or orthopedic specialist can easily reach over $150-200 and treatment often costs many times that, it’s well worth the cost to try out the Backpod to see if it will help your costochondritis. While the Backpod may not cure cancer, it may certainly have a use in treating costochondritis and other conditions.

Have you used the Backpod to treat your costochondritis? Please leave a comment below.

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