Cartilage attaches the ribs to the sternum (breastbone) and the sternum to the clavicles (collarbone). The joints between the ribs and the cartilages are called costochondral joints, and those between the sternum and clavicle are costolalvicular joints. Costochondritis is an inflammation of either, or both of these.
When we inhale the ribs (there to protect the lungs) expands. Cartilage allows for that movement. When this cartilage is inflamed any movement can result in pain and tenderness.
Symptoms of Costochondritis are pain and tenderness around the rib area (worse with movement and pressure), fatigue, and problems with voice.
This condition generally follows a viral respiratory infection, coughing, trauma or surgery but can be idiopathic (no cause).
Doctors’ state this condition should clear in about 6 weeks, but it can become chronic leaving suffers having frequent flare-ups years after their first diagnosis. This is especially common and reoccurring in people with fibromyalgia, arthritis and other auto-immune diseases.
Orthodox treatment will include anti-inflammatories and pain killers. For prolonged cases an intercostal nerve block may be recommended. For a more holistic approach try the following, monitoring your symptoms and pain levels.
An anti-inflammatory diet is recommended comprising of healthy and wholesome foods. Salmon, sardines, herring, anchovies, flaxseed, hempseed and walnuts are a great source of anti-inflammatory Omega 3s. In addition, other anti-inflammatory fats include extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, flaxseed oil, hempseed oil and walnut oil.
Fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants are important. Onions, garlic, peppers and dark leafy greens, blueberries and strawberries contain inflammation-fighting carotenoids, vitamin K and vitamin E.
Refined carbohydrates are pro-inflammatory. Refined flour, sugar and foods high on the glycaemic index exacerbate inflammatory conditions. Omega-6 fats are inflammatory because they are metabolised into hormone-like compounds that actually promote inflammation and are found in corn, safflower, sunflower, peanut and soybean oils. Keep foods as natural and unprocessed as possible.
Add ginger, turmeric, cayenne pepper, garlic and onions to everyday meals to fight inflammation. Pineapple contains bromelain a chemical which prohibits swelling. Celery contains over 25 anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as providing massive amounts of potassium. Try celery seeds either raw or cooked.
Turmeric – A great natural pain reliever as well as being anti-inflammatory. Turmeric contains Curcumin and Curcuminoids which act in the same way as prescribed NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Turmeric needs to be supplemented to reap the full benefits but can also be used topically and added to food.
Nettles – Nettles amazingly contain boron, magnesium, calcium iron, phosphorus, beta-carotene, vitamins A, B, C and D, protein and silicon. Nature really knew what she was doing when she created this humble plant.
Omega 3s – Vitally important for a strong immune system and fighting inflammation. There are vegan options available (such as flax) especially important if you are sensitive to animal fats.
Burdock Root – Burdock contains anti-inflammatory fatty oils and is great as a natural pain reliever.
Aloe Vera – Aloe Vera boosts the immune system and energy levels, providing the body with the right agents to restore and repair itself.
Omit food intolerances
Costochondritis can be linked to Celiac disease. Along with gluten there are foods that are known to trigger inflammation such as animal fats, dairy, red meat, alcohol and fried foods. However before embarking on an elimination diet, I recommend having a food sensitivity test, either through a qualified Kinesiologist or a saliva test can be carried out via post.
Many teas contain bioflavonoids and polyphenols that reduce inflammation and limit free radical production and are a natural pain relieving sedative. Try Fennel, Hop, Ginger, Rosemary, Alfalfa and Green Tea.
Sleep is the body’s natural healer. It can be more painful to lie flat with Costochondritis so experiment with pillows to raise yourself up if needed.
There are certain stretches that can help with this condition. See a physio with experience in treating sufferers.
Relief can be found through osteopathy or chiropractic techniques.
Sufferers have reported positive results with acupuncture and massage.
Although heat can cause inflammation, heat packs can be very soothing and aid breathing. Ice packs can help reduce pain. Try both to see what works for you.
A tens machine can be used for pain relief. Many hospitals and chemists hire these so you can try before you buy.
Quiet, relaxed breathing can help ease the pain. Daily meditation practice is ideal for regulating the breath and releasing stress within the body.
If it hurts to talk – don’t. People will understand if you email, text or communicate via notes during bad spells to aid recovery.
If you are doing anything to irritate your ribs, stop. Many forms of exercise can worsen this condition, slowing down your recovery rate. It can seem like a frustratingly long time until you can get back to your normal routine but taking care of your ribs now means faster healing.
The cold and damp can irritate your lungs, increasing your breathing and creating more movement in your ribs. Wrap up warm in layers.
** ANY FORM OF CHEST PAIN MUST BE INVESTIGATED BY YOUR DOCTOR **