Costochondritis is best described as inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and the breastbone. Most people with this condition suffer a sharp pain near the sternum, which sometimes mimics the pain associated with a heart attack. Since this condition usually clears on its own, treatment isn’t often necessary. Changes in diet aren’t likely to improve – or worsen, for that matter – your condition.
No special diet exists to treat costochondritis, so the foods you eat aren’t likely to cause or trigger the pain accompanying this condition. Neither the National Center for Emergency Medicine Informatics nor the National Institutes of Health make any recommendations for changing your diet to improve this condition. Instead, certain activities could be aggravating your discomfort, particularly pursuits where you must raise your arms overhead. Pain may also worsen while coughing or taking deep breaths.
Although researchers are still uncertain what causes costochondritis, it’s believed that certain factors can contribute to this condition. A direct injury to the chest is one potential source for the pain, but you may also develop this condition as a result of heavy lifting or stress to the chest. In fact, one of the preventive steps of this condition is the proper use of backpacks or bags. Improperly carrying a backpack or bag can cause the shoulder to slump, setting the stage for injury to the cartilage between the ribs and sternum. Other factors known to contribute to this condition include upper respiratory infections, costosternal joint infection and fibromyalgia.
While the condition often remedies itself, usually in a few days to a week, you can help ease the pain with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen or naproxen. Follow the directions on the packaging for best results. You may also see some improvement by applying heat to the area for 15 minutes at a time, several times throughout the day. Rest and exercise, namely gentle pursuits like walking or swimming, can also bring about relief.
If pain doesn’t improve with self-care, talk to your doctor about prescription medications. He may recommend a prescription-strength anti-inflammatory or prescribe a muscle relaxant or antidepressant to relieve your discomfort. He won’t likely make any change to your diet. Even weight loss doesn’t appear to improve the occurrence or severity of this condition.