Though costochondritis can be an anxiety-inducing and frustrating condition, there are a variety of treatment options available. Fortunately, many of these treatments are low cost home remedies. Different providers within the specialties that treat costochondritis may have different opinions on the best treatment option for you, but be sure to check with your physician before proceeding with any treatment.
First thing, your physician will want to make sure you’re not having any serious heart or lung related issues. After those have been ruled out, treatment for costochondritis can proceed typically one of two pathways – either masking the symptoms (chest pain) or resolving or reducing the root cause (inflammation). Treatment is usually via self-help (i.e. resting, stretching) medication or physical therapy.
In most cases, costochondritis will go away on its own within several days or weeks with conservative treatment. While Tietze’s syndrome is more rare than costochondritis, the conditions are very similar, and most of the information below also applies.
Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do at home to ease the symptoms of costochondritis:
- Resting at home – avoid any activity that stresses your chest area causing pain such as strenuous activity, working out your chest muscles, or physical labor.
- Using a massage device like the BackPod
- Apply heat to the area using a heating pad
- Caution – do not lay on a heating pad, you can trap the heat between the pad and your body and burn yourself
- Apply cold to the area using ice packs
- Though heat seems to be recommended more often, try both hot and cold to see which works best for you
- Gently stretching the pectoral muscles to relieve tension and increase blood flow
- Hot showers and baths may help relieve the pain
- Following an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
- Stress reduction techniques such as meditation and deep breathing
- Over-the-counter topical, analgesic pain relief rubs, creams, or gels such as Tiger Balm, Penetrex, Icy Hot, Biofreeze, Sombra, or Voltaren that contain camphor or menthol
- Lidocaine patches
You can read more about home remedies and self-care for costochondritis here. It’s recommended to speak with your doctor before starting any treatment for costochondritis.
Your physician may prescribe one of a number of options:
NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) are commonly prescribed for costochondritis. These drugs reduce pain by blocking enzymes that make chemicals that signal pain to your body.
- Naproxen is often prescribed over Ibuprofen for costochondritis because it is longer lasting (though it is also more likely to cause an upset stomach)
- Acetominophen (e.g. Tylenol) / Paracetamol may also be prescribed.
- Your physician might also prescribe lidocaine patches or a topical gel such as Icy Hot or Biofreeze.
These drugs are available from your local drug store or online, without a prescription. If your costochondritis does not respond to over the counter painkillers, your doctor may prescribe medication from the pharmacy.
For high levels of pain, narcotic painkillers (opioids) may be prescribed by your physician such as:
- Hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin, Lortab, Norco)
- Oxycodone (e.g. Percocet)
To note, opioid-based medications are habit-forming and have a high potential for abuse. Talk to your physician to find out what you can do to keep yourself and your family safe. Several other medications for chronic pain have also proven effective for treating costochondritis:
- Amitriptyline (a tricyclic antridepressant) – may be especially effective is costochondritis pain is causing sleep problems for you.
- Gabapentin (also known as Neurontin, an anti-epileptic / anticonvulsant drug) – can help relieve nerve pain, often used to treat chronic pain
- Prednisone – oral steroids are often prescribed for costochondritis to reduce inflammation
- Antibiotics (IV or oral) may be prescribed if your costochondritis is the result of a bacterial or fungal infection
- Muscle relaxers such as Flexeril (cyclobenzaprine) may be prescribed
Your physician may also prescribe a physical therapy approach to treat costochondritis:
- Costochondritis stretches – at least one clinical study has shown that many patients have seen improvement from gentle, stretching exercises that target the chest, back, sternum, and arms. You can read more about stretches for costochondritis here.
- Massage therapy – while it is not recommended to massage the chest area during the initial, painful phases of costochondritis, massage therapy on the muscles assisting in respiration as well as the neck, back, and abdomen can assist in recovery.
- TENS therapy (nerve stimulation) – this method of therapy provides pain relief by applying an electrical current to the chest area. The electrical current can reduce the pain signals your body is sending to the brain.
Surgery (and other procedures)
If your costochondritis does not respond to conservative treatments, your physician may recommend an alternative treatment such as:
- Corticosteroid injections – these steroids can be injected into the costochondral joint to help reduce pain and inflammation. You may need to continue having these shots a few times per year.
- Cartilage surgery – removing the inflamed cartilage via surgery may be a last resort option for severe pain
Mental and Emotional Health
Costochondritis can take a heavy toll on your mind. As with any condition that causes chronic pain, it is important to take care of your mental health. Chronic pain can have a variety of impacts on mental health including irritability, forgetfulness, depression, and more. You can read more about strategies for managing your emotional and mental health with costochondritis here.
As you can see, while there is no known, definitive “cure” for costochondritis there are many different ways to treat the condition nonetheless. As costochondritis has many different causes, there are also many potential treatments and patients have reported a wide variety of solutions that have helped them treat their symptoms.
Feel free to comment below – what treatments have you found effective for your costochondritis?