Costochondritis is a painful inflammation that occurs in the chest, where the ribs meet the sternum. The pain can typically persist for weeks to months, but can last longer for some people. Costochondritis can be treated in a number of ways, including pain medication, natural remedies, physical therapy, and more. Costochondritis can also be treated via stretching and exercises, which has been shown to be effective by this 2009 study. In this study, 34 patients were treated for costochondritis by prescribing simple stretching exercises and the results showed a reduction in pain over time compared to a control group.
Exercise and stretching have a number of benefits that can reduce the symptoms of costochondritis. Stretching can relieve tension around painful areas, while also increasing blood flow and helping injuries to heal. Exercise also releases endorphins (a hormone secreted by your brain often called the “feel good”chemical) which can decrease pain and make you feel more relaxed. Stretching also improves mobility in the joints and muscles, and some believe costochondritis to be caused by “locked up” costosternal joints in the back.
Make sure you speak with your doctor or a physical therapist before starting any new exercises. Be sure to stop if you feel any intense pain. With costochondritis, you’ll typically want to avoid any exercises that strain the chest muscles and rib joints. Avoid any stretches or exercises that make your symptoms worse. Start with small, gentle movements to loosen up your muscles.
Doorway Pectoral Stretch
One stretch that has proven effective for costochondritis pain is the “doorway pectoralis” stretch. To perform this stretch:
- Stand facing an open doorway
- Raise your arm with your elbow bent 90 degrees
- Rest your forearm against the wall with your elbows at shoulder height
- Lean forward to gently stretch your chest muscles
You can move your arm higher or lower to stretch different parts of the chest. You can see an example of this stretch in the video below.
In the aforementioned study patients performed a similar “Bent Arm Wall Stretch” against a wall or doorway, holding the stretch for 30 seconds. Patients were instructed to perform the stretch 20 times per day, eventually increasing up to 60 repetitions per day. After 90 days, most patients had reported a reduction in pain.
Chest Out / Arms Back Stretch
To perform this stretch, keep your elbows at your side while breathing in to expand your chest as much as possible. Then, rows your arms backwards while keeping them against your side. You may feel your chest bones crack or pop doing this stretch, which can help relieve pain. You can see an example in the video below.
Scapula Squeeze / Row
Scapula squeezes can help strengthen the upper back, which can reduce pain from the chest area. These stretches can be done with or without a resistance band. You can sit on the floor or in bed for this stretch. It’s recommended to perform this stretch 10 times per day to start, eventually increasing up to 25 repetitions. To perform this stretch:
- Wrap the band around your feet
- Hold the band with your thumbs facing upwards
- Keep your arms at your side with your shoulders down and relaxed
- Pull your elbows back squeezing the shoulder blades together toward the back
You can see an example of this stretch in the video below.
Equipment for Stretching
While you don’t especially need to have these items at home to perform your stretches, they can certainly help make some of these stretches more effective and easier to perform.
While foam rolling was a technique mostly used by athletes and trainers in the past, this technique is becoming more mainstream. Foam rollers are light foam tubes that can be used to improve flexibility as well as for self-massage. They can be used to roll out tight muscles, which relieves tension and speeds up muscle recovery. This type of self-massage is called myofascial release.
The Backpod is a device gaining in popularity that can be used to treat costochondritis among other conditions. The device was invented by Steve August, a New Zealand-based physical therapist. The Backpod is a small device made of rubber in plastic that is used to stretch out and unfreeze rib joints in the back that can exacerbate costochondritis. To use the device, patients lay on the device with it positioned in the upper back, between the spine and shoulder blade. Many patients have reported success with the Backpod device.
Stability balls are also called exercise balls, yoga balls, pilates balls, and swiss balls among other names. These balls are made of rubber and filled with air and can be used in many different exercises. One key benefit of using the ball is that it requires more muscles throughout the body to engage to correct against the instability of the ball, which strengthens your core muscles and improves balance. Some experts even recommend sitting on a stability ball instead of an office chair in the work environment.
Rubber Resistance Band
Resistance bands are a simple and low cost tool that you can use to stretch and exercise almost every muscle in the body, and they can be a great alternative to heavy weights. They are typically made of strong rubber and sometimes have handles on the ends to make them easier to grip. Sometimes the bands are made of a rubber tube, and come with a handle for gripping. Other tubes are more like a giant rubber band. The best aspect is that they are portable, and take up little space, so you can travel with them and exercise at your hotel room for example.