Chest Pain and Fibromyalgia
If you have fibromyalgia you may have noticed that you often feel intense pain in your ribcage and chest. This aching and stabbing pain is very common in fibromyalgia and can really impact on your enjoyment of life. If your chest pains are making it difficult for you to complete your work, get a good night’s sleep, or even breathe deeply, it is important to visit with your health care provider. Chest pain in fibromyalgia is usually nothing to worry about, but occasionally it can indicate other problems.
Costochondritis: A Painful Problem
The chest pain associated with fibromyalgia is referred to as costochondritis. It is an inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the chest bone. It is this inflammation that causes the sharp chest pains inside the chest wall. The pain of costochondritis often mimics the pain of cardiac problems, including heart attacks and stroke. This can be quite scary for some sufferers; however, costochondiritis rarely causes any physical complications.
Costochondritis affects about 60% to 70% of fibromyalgia sufferers. Costochondritis in women is particularly common, especially in women between the ages of 20 and 40. Costochondritis rib pain can last for weeks and even months, and can reappear at different intervals throughout your illness. Costochondritis can also affect those who don’t have fibromyalgia and is often a result of chest trauma or exercise-related injury. In fact, it is thought that about 10% of the general population has costochondiritis.
Where does Costochondritis Hit?
Costochondritis affects the junction between the ribs and the chest bone, also called the sternum. 7 bits of cartilage attach your ribs to your sternum, and costochondiritis causes this cartilage to become inflamed and sore. If you have costochondiritis, you will be able to feel pain upon movement of your upper torso or when you touch your ribs. Most commonly, pain is felt on the left side of your chest, though chest pains on the right side, or even on both sides, can occur.
Any one of the 7 cartilage junction points can be affected by costochondiritis. 90% of people with costochondritis suffer from more than just 1 inflamed cartilage junction point. In severe costochondritis, all 7 cartilage junction points can be inflamed. This inflammation causes pain on the anterior (front) chest wall, which can be felt when you move and when you palpate your ribs. Typically, the second to fifth ribs are affected, though it is also common for the sixth rib to be affected.
What Does Costochondritis Pain Feel Like?
Costochondritis pain is often described as a stabbing or aching pain in the ribs. This pain can wax and wane: some days it will be worse, while other days it will be much better. The sharp pain caused by costochondritis generally begins in the chest. This pain can then radiate outwards, attacking the shoulders, neck, and upper abdomen. Costochondritis pain can last for long periods of time and chronic costochondritis is not uncommon. However, most pain should be gone within 6 months to a year from the onset of symptoms.
Symptoms of Costochondritis
If you have fibromyalgia, be on the lookout for these costochondritis symptoms:
- sharp, stabbing pain in the front of the chest
- ribs that are sore to the touch
- pain on the left or right side of the chest
- upper chest pains
- burning pain in the ribs
- pain that radiates up the back of the neck and shoulders
- pain in your chest when you sneeze or cough
- pain that increases with activity, exertion, or deep breathing
- pain that decreases with rest, movement, or slow breathing
Costochondritis is also associated with other, secondary symptoms. These include:
- rapid heart rate
- irregular heart rate
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to visit with your health care provider in order to rule out any other complications.
Causes of Costochondritis in Fibromyalgia
To date, the specific causes of costochondritis are unknown, though researchers do believe that a variety of factors could play a role in the development of the illness.
Repetitive Activity: Repetitive activity may be responsible for the chest pain suffered by people with fibromyalgia. Sitting at a desk or leaning forward over a computer for long periods of time often puts stress on the muscles in the chest. People with fibromyalgia already have hypersensitive muscles, and this repetitive activity may exacerbate pain in the chest area, causing costochondritis.
Fibromyalgia Tender Points: The tender points present in fibromyalgia may be responsible for causing costochondritis in fibromyalgia sufferers. Tender points are located just to the left of the chest, underneath the collarbone. These tender points may be causing intense pain in the chest region.
Myofascial Pain: Many fibromyalgia sufferers also have myofascial pain syndrome, an illness that causes the appearance of painful trigger points throughout the body. Costochondritis may be the result of trigger points that have developed in the rib area.
Infection: Rarely, costochondritis can be caused by upper respiratory tract infections or non-allergic rhinitis. These conditions can cause long periods of repetitive coughing. This coughing can stress and strain the cartilage that connects the ribs with the sternum, causing constant chest pains.
Effects of Costochondiritis on Fibromyalgia
Costochondritis can exacerbate the symptoms of fibromyalgia. In particular, fibromyalgia often inhibits your ability to participate in certain activities or sit in certain positions for long periods. Because costochondritis causes such intense chest pain, it often makes sleeping difficult or impossible, causing disordered sleeping and insomnia. Costochondritis disability is not uncommon, especially in fibromyalgia.
It is important that if you are experiencing any type of chest pain that you immediately consult a physician in order to correctly diagnose the nature of the pain.