stretching for costochondritis

Stretches for Costochondritis

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:

  1. Wrap the band around your feet
  2. Hold the band with your thumbs facing upwards
  3. Keep your arms at your side with your shoulders down and relaxed
  4. 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.

Foam Roller

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.

Backpod

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 Ball

stability ball for costochondritis
Stability Ball

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.

Have you had success in using stretches and exercises to treat your costochondritis symptoms? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

5 thoughts on “Stretches for Costochondritis”

  1. I am desperately trying to get a diagnosis of costochondritis and some idea of treatment. I am a runner and have had really bad chest pain near or behind sternum that radiates to back and ribs. All other tests to rule out heart and lung problems have been done. Every time I go for a run, I am left with debilitating pain a few hour afterwards and lasts for days. I have had this for months. I am taking meloxicam to reduce inflammation, but it does not seem to work well. Desperate!

    Reply
    • For what it’s worth , I have the same thing and am as desperate as you are , Annie . I’m a yoga practitioner and haven’t been able to practice for 5 months now . The pain is absolutely debilitating and painkillers stop doing it after a while , if at all … For what I know so far and as devastating as it is – there’s no real treatment for this . Mainstream science as well as alternative , from what I’ve been searching so far , don’t have real answers as to its causes or treatment .
      Running aggravates it greatly .
      I clean houses for a living , which aggravates it too . Been working with painkillers for the past 5 months , until this past weekend . The pains have become so severe that I can’t go back to work . I woke up and couldn’t move without screaming … if not for covid I’d be in the hospital by now .
      So be careful , as at some point it might catch up with you … you can’t keep on aggravating it , it’ll get worse . At least that’s what is happening to me right now … and I feel like my life is over … total despair and misery , even suicidal at times .
      There are all kinds of alternative treatments – osteopathy , acupuncture etc. but they’re quite expansive and this is so acute that way more than one treatment would be needed , and no guarantee …
      I pray for us ….

      Reply
    • I am 16 years old and have had costochondritis since I was 8. I used to wake up in the mornings and not be able to walk or move my muscles without screaming. I am here to tell you that it does get better after a while. Staying in one spot and not doing anything will aggravate it even more even though you don’t think it does. There are no treatments for everyone however I have found that medical creams work best because they target the pain where it is happening. When you are having the pain try not to lay down, try to sit in a chair or stand up because it will help with the severness of the pain itself. There are certain treatments that you can look into however none are guaranteed to relieve the pain. My main suggestion is try not to overwork yourself, however you do not want to underwork yourself by staying in bed all day because these both lead to the pain getting worse.

      Reply
  2. I read these comments and wanted to give a little bit of hope to everyone out there. I am 16 years old and have had costochondritis since I was 8. I was unable to get out of bed some days and my muscles stopped working to the point where I felt like I had to train them to work every morning. I was diagnosed at 9 years old and pain killers in pill form definitely do stop working after a while. I suggest trying a medical cream that targets the area directly. Medical creams definitely do work better than pills for costochondritis. The doorway stretches have also seemed to help me throughout these many years. As I know of there are not many options for cures that will necessarily work. There are options like acupuncture, osteopathy, etc. but they aren’t guaranteed to work. I will say that you need to stop laying around because that will make it worse even though you don’t think it does. Also, too much activity isn’t good either. I suggest slowly easing back into activity by slowly going on walks and getting out and about by just walking and over time you will be able to be very active again. I am a soccer player so I know all to well what it’s like not being able to do what you love because of costochondritis. I hope that my response can help people other than myself.

    Reply

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