Acute and Chronic Costochondritis
Costochondritis is a commonly under- or misdiagnosed condition that involves your ribs.
The ribs, of which there are twelve pairs, attach to the front and back of your body. The first seven attach in the front at the breast bone, or sternum, and around back at two locations along your spinal column. The other five pairs attach along both sides of the spinal column, at two locations each, and connect in front via a network of cartilage.
Your ribs protect your lungs but also hinge, front and back, to allow for the movement of your lungs.
I have a little saying: anything that moves in a mechanical way can get STUCK. Your joints, where bones meet and glide over one another, can get locked, and sometimes, they can’t unlock without help.
When ribs get locked they’re especially painful. Your lungs cannot fully expand and take in the full load of air you need.
As a result, your brain will send out a very strong pain signal letting you know it’s not getting its proper level of oxygen.
A locking of the upper front ribs can also mimic a heart attack, which has sent many people to the emergency room. How best to tell locked ribs from a heart attack? Press on the area and if it hurts, you have a locked rib/s.
Locked ribs afflict more women than men. It’s most often caused by holding a load of something, arms outstretched in front of you, for an extended period of time or at an odd angle. It can also occur as the result of trauma, including chest surgery.
A Real Patient Story
A 49 year old woman presented to me with debilitating rib pain. She didn’t know it was her ribs, of course. She described it as chest pain she’d had for years. She had to work from home; driving and other activities had become too painful, and she felt best lying down.
Years before this pain took over her life she’d undergone an open heart procedure. The surgery went well but the ensuing pain was alarming. On follow up visits to her cardiologist they concluded it was pericarditis, an inflammation around the heart.
Initially, the symptoms came and went, which signaled a post-operative reaction, a reasonable conclusion to draw at the time. But one day the pain came and stayed, and at that point someone should have put their thinking cap on. Unfortunately, it went on for a number of years.
Eventually she was referred to a pain management doctor who was wearing his thinking cap. He diagnosed a severe case of costochondritis and referred her to me.
While not completely cured, yet, she’s much more stable and able to drive, walk for much longer periods of time, and engage life more fully.
A combination of intensive dry needling of her rib joints, front and back, myofascial release, spinal manipulation, and subsequent treatment has given her back a quality of life she had lost for years.
If you’ve been experiencing this type of pain and looking for answers, please call us for an appointment.
We have two locations in Maryland