A common complaint that brings many people into the emergency room seeking pain relief is pain in the sternum. The pain may or may not feel like pressure, bruising, cracking or just plain hurt. The sternum is the bone that ribs are attached to that runs down the front of the chest. Most of the time people think they're having a heart attack. People want to know what causes sternum pain when it's not heart-related pain and what they can do to relieve it.
There are a few other causes of sternum pain that are not as common including Tietze syndrome – an inflammatory condition in the breast area, septic arthritis, a hereditary condition called ankylosing spondilitis (diagnosed through blood tests) that affects the joints, particularly in the lower back and spine, and fibromyalgia.
But generally the most common cause of sternum pain in my experience is costochondritis. A big sounding word for something that is relatively minor compared to other conditions. Costochondritis is generally due to an injury to the cartilage connecting the ribs to the rib cage at the sternum or the sides. You may move a piece of furniture or reach for something just out of reach and injure the cartilage.
Once this happens you want to try your best not to reinjure it, because the healing has to start all over again. You do not want to turn it into chronic costochondritis. Yes even after injuring it several times while it's healing, it will still heal. Then again you do not want to injure the area. If you can go a few months with no reinjury it likely will not be easy to reinjure the area.
You want to get checked out if you have sternum pain to make sure you're not having a heart issue. More than likely you're not, especially if you can feel the area of pain by pressing just a little. If it's sore you more than likely have costochondritis. This inflammation will get better.
If you're having any heart issues like jaw pain or pain that radiates out from the neck or arms, chills, fever or any numbness or feeling of indigestion, you want to make sure to get checked by your doctor.
For pain relief, medications are discouraged and the best treatment is to avoid more injury. You can get into a cycle if you're taking too much pain medication and develop problems from the risks from taking those drugs, even over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Or if narcotics you can become physically dependent or addicted. Generally the pain is annoying and aggravating but not severe enough to take narcotics.
Be careful getting into and out of the bathtub or bed because those are some of the most common places you can reinjure your cartilage and cause more sternum pain. Sometimes a rib belt will give you pain relief your injury is severe. Costochondritis can be annoying, aggravating and painful but it's not life threatening and in time it will heal. Be patient and try not to reinjure your sternum or sides.