The struggles with Sternum Pain

Symptoms and diagnosis for Sternum Pain

By Neurosurgery Singapore

Sternum Pain Intro

What is a Sternum Pain?

Sternum pain also known as Costochondritis, is pain or discomfort in the area of the chest that contains the sternum and the cartilage connecting it to the ribs. The sternum is located near the heart, so many people experiencing sternum pain may confuse it with more general chest pain.

Chest pain caused by costochondritis can range from mild to severe. Mild cases may only cause your chest to feel tender to touch or some pain when you push on the area of your chest cartilage.

Severe cases may cause shooting pains down your limbs or unbearable chest pain that interferes with your life and doesn’t seem to go away. The condition often goes away within a few weeks, but some cases may require treatment.

What are some symptoms of a Sternum Pain?

Chest pain linked to Sternum Pain usually comes on after exercise, minor trauma, or an upper respiratory infection.

    • Sharp pain in the front of  your chest, near where your breastbone and ribs meet, typically on the left side. It may spread to your back or belly.
    • Pain when you take a deep breath or cough. It gets better when you stop moving or your breathing is quieter.
    • Tenderness when you press on your rib joints. If you don’t have this tenderness, you probably don’t have costochondritis.
    •  If costochondritis happens because of an infection after surgery, you’ll have redness, swelling, or pus discharge at the site of the surgery.

“Some people experiencing sternum pain worry they may be having a heart attack. However, in most cases, sternum pain is unrelated to the heart and caused primarily due to problems with the sternum itself or the nearby cartilage.”

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What types of diagnosis?

Sternum Pain is diagnosed using the history and physical exam rather than by specific laboratory or imaging tests. Tests are sometimes used to rule out other conditions that can have similar symptoms but are more dangerous, such as heart disease.

  • Our doctor will try to reproduce tenderness over the affected ribs. There is usually no significant visible swelling.
  • Blood work and a chest X-ray are usually not helpful in diagnosing costochondritis, but these may be used to rule out other causes of chest pain. However, after sternum surgery, or for people at risk for heart disease, doctors will be more likely to do tests if there is chest pain and possible costochondritis to be certain there is no infection or other serious medical problems.

    • They will look for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, pus, and drainage at the site of surgery.
    • A more sophisticated imaging study of the chest, a gallium scan, can be used to check for infection. It will show increased uptake of the radioactive material gallium in an area of infection.
    • In situations of possible infection, the white blood cell count may be elevated.
    • Chest X-ray is obtained if pneumonia is a suspected cause of chest pain.
    • ECG and other tests will be done if a heart problem is considered.

Treatment for Sternum Pain

Sternum Pain usually goes away on its own, although it might last for several weeks or longer. Treatment focuses on pain relief.


Our Specialist might recommend:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Our doctor might prescribe stronger varieties of these nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Side effects might include damage to your stomach lining and kidneys.
  • Antidepressants. Tricyclic antidepressants are often used to control chronic pain — especially if it’s keeping you awake at night.
  • Anti-seizure drugs. The epilepsy medication also has proved successful in controlling chronic pain.


Physical therapy treatments might include:

  • Stretching exercises. Gentle stretching exercises for the chest muscles may be helpful.
  • Nerve stimulation. A device sends a weak electrical current via adhesive patches on the skin near the area of pain. The current might interrupt or mask pain signals, preventing them from reaching your brain.

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