Did you know that fibromyalgia can cause chest pain? I sure didn’t!!!! The first time I had experienced this type of chest pain was the scariest moment of my life – thinking something was wrong with my heart. Chest pain that is felt with fibromyalgia can mimic what may present as a heart attack. It is actually a condition called Costochondritis – which causes inflammation of your rib cartilage. This cartilage connects your ribs to your breastbone. With the symptoms mimicking a heart attack, I would definitely not just assume its costochondritis and get it checked by a doctor to be sure it’s not anything serious or heart related.
Since I hadn’t heard of this condition before, I decided it was a good time to do some personal research and find out as much information as I could about it as at the time. I was dealing with this chest pain daily for a while. On several sites I used to research, it stated that costochondritis pain is usually only felt in a small area of one’s chest while a heart-attack involves a more widespread area and often causes pain in the neck and into the arms. My chest pain I experience is always on my left side of my chest – hence why at first I thought it was my heart. The pain is a sharp aching pain, which can have a gradual onset or appear immediately. For myself, the chest pain would start minimal and then increase to the point it hurts to breathe or move. I would also feel like there was an air bubble stuck in my chest- it really isn’t an air bubble, but cartilage inflammation. Costochondritis is not a life-threatening, but can be very painful. The attack can usually be relieved by resting and waiting for the condition to improve. Everyone will experience costochondritis differently. Your pain may be less severe than mine, similar or even more severe than I have experienced. I found the duration of the attacks different each time. Sometimes the pain would ease after several hours, while other times it would last until the following day.
To help treat costochondritis I have found lying flat on the bed or couch helps ease my pain. I remain as still as I possibly can as movement aggravates the pain further. I also apply heat with a heating pad to the area. One could also try to ice the area, but I prefer heat. My body responds poorly to icing. My body has become intolerant to icing areas causing pain to arise. Some people may not get any relieve by laying down but may get some relief by standing or sitting in a particular position. You may find yourself experimenting to see which works best for pain relief for you. I often take over the counter pain killers such as Advil or Motrin to help relieve the pain. A few times I have had to rely on prescription anti-inflammatory medication to help.
There has been no solid evidence towards what could cause an attack of costochondritis to form, but possible causes could be anything that may cause tension to the chest area. The stress can therefore cause inflammation to take place. Even a simple action such as coughing, could cause an attack to happen or reaching for an object off a high shelf above your head. In most cases, it remains unknown to what causes each episode of costochondritis to take place. If you can pinpoint the cause, you may be able to prevent future attacks from taking place. However, without being able to know what the direct cause for the cartilage is to become irritated and inflamed, it remains very difficult to prevent.
I have come across a few articles over the years, that states there are exercises and stretching one can use to help relieve the pain felt from costochondritis. However, I have never explored these stretches and exercises as it states it is best to be directed by a trained physiotherapist. If anyone attends physio for other reasons, you may have the opportunity to ask your physiotherapist about these exercises. Usually at physio, they will teach you the proper stretch or exercise, so you do not hurt yourself further. There are many videos on YouTube about these specific exercises if you wish to explore further.
You can find more information on Costochondritis here. You will be redirected to the mayo clinic website for more information.
I’m sure costochondritis can be present without being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. So don’t assume that if you have fibromyalgia, you will have costochondritis or vice versa. Individuals who are diagnosed with fibromyalgia just seem to have higher chances of having the cartilage in their ribs inflame.