Cartilage Disorders

Cartilage is the tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of your bones at a joint.

Cartilage is the tough but flexible tissue that covers the ends of your bones at a joint. It also gives shape and support to other parts of your body, such as your ears, nose and windpipe. Healthy cartilage helps you move by allowing your bones to glide over each other. It also protects bones by preventing them from rubbing against each other.

Injured, inflamed, or damaged cartilage can cause symptoms such as pain and limited movement. It can also lead to joint damage and deformity. Causes of cartilage problems include

  • Tears and injuries, such as sports injuries
  • Genetic factors
  • Other disorders, such as some types of arthritis

Osteoarthritis results from breakdown of cartilage.

Because the cause is often unknown, there no known way to prevent costochondritis.

There is often no known cause of costochondritis. But it may be caused by:

  • Chest injury
  • Hard exercise or heaving lifting
  • Viral infections, such as respiratory infections
  • Strain from coughing
  • Infections after surgery or from IV drug use
  • Some types of arthritis

The most common symptom of costochondritis is pain and tenderness in the chest. You may feel:

  • Sharp pain at the front of your chest wall, which may move to your back or stomach
  • Increased pain when you take a deep breath or cough
  • Tenderness when you press the area where the rib joins the breastbone
  • Less pain when you stop moving and breathe quietly

Your health care provider will take your medical history and do a physical exam. Your provider will press on the area where the ribs meet the breastbone. If this area is tender and sore, costochondritis is the most likely cause of your chest pain.

A chest x-ray may be done if your symptoms are severe or do not improve with treatment.

Your provider may also order tests to rule out other conditions, such as a heart attack.

Costochondritis most often goes away on its own in a few days or weeks, though it can take up to a few months. Treatment focuses on relieving the pain.

Apply hot or cold compresses.
Avoid activities that make the pain worse.

Pain medicines, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), may help to ease pain and swelling. You can buy these without a prescription.

Talk with your provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or more than your provider advises you to take. Carefully read the warnings on the label before taking any medicine.

You also may take acetaminophen (Tylenol) instead, if your provider tells you it is safe to do so. People with liver disease should not take this medicine.

If your pain is severe, your provider may prescribe stronger pain medicine.

In some cases, your provider may recommend physical therapy. 

Costochondritis pain usually goes away in a few days or weeks.