Costochondritis: Care Instructions

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You have chest pain because the cartilage of your rib cage is inflamed. This problem is called costochondritis. This type of chest wall pain may last from days to weeks. It is not a heart problem. Sometimes costochondritis occurs with a cold or the flu, and other times the exact cause is not known.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take medicines for pain and inflammation exactly as directed.
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine, take it as prescribed.
    • If you are not taking a prescription pain medicine, ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter medicine.
    • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • It may help to use a warm compress or heating pad (set on low) on your chest. You can also try alternating heat and ice. Put ice or a cold pack on the area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. Put a thin cloth between the ice and your skin.
  • Avoid any activity that strains the chest area. As your pain gets better, you can slowly return to your normal activities.
  • Do not use tape, an elastic bandage, a "rib belt," or anything else that restricts your chest wall motion.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You have new or different chest pain or pressure. This may occur with:
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, or one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
    • A fast or uneven pulse.
    After calling 911, chew 1 adult-strength aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.
  • You have severe trouble breathing.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a fever or cough.
  • You have any trouble breathing.
  • Your chest pain gets worse.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your chest pain continues even though you are taking anti-inflammatory medicine.
  • Your chest wall pain has not improved after 5 to 7 days.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.