Pain after Breast Cancer: Costocondritis

Is pain after breast cancer normal?  The answer to this question is often vague. For many women, pain is a normal part of recovery after breast cancer treatment.  But for some women, persistent pain after breast cancer may be due to costocondritis.

Costrocondritis can be difficult to diagnose and, because of this, the process is frequently not straight forward.  One patient who developed costocondritis had the following experience: “I complained about discomfort and pain in my chest to my oncologist and he ordered an ultrasound.   It indicated the cartilage between my rib bones was lumpy and close to the skin. My doctor said this wasn’t anything to worry about because it had been there since I had the mastectomy operation. Then I asked my surgeon about it and he said it had probably been there forever but now my breast is gone I can feel it. But I did worry because it was below the area where my multi-focal tumors were situated.” So she continued to search for the reason for her pain and finally discovered the source: Costocondritis.

What is Costocondritis? 

Costochondritis Inflammation

Costocondritis is inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs to the breastbone (called costal cartilages). Also known as anterior chest wall pain, it causes discomfort in the chest wall around the breastbone or sternum and pain can range from mild to severe.

What does Costochondritis feel like? 

Costochondritis is a common problem in women who have been affected by breast cancer.  Costrochondritis pain acts up in a way similar to arthritis and, likewise, can range from mild to severe.   There may be tenderness over the anterior chest and pain may radiate to the back, shoulders, stomach or arms.  Flare ups can be triggered by over-working your arms, lifting, sweeping, or over extending and is aggravated by coughing, lifting, straining, sneezing and deep breathing.  Pain can be constant or intermittent and can last for several days, months or years.

Costochondritis or Tietze Syndrome- How do I know? 

Tietze Syndrome is a condition that causes localized musculoskeletal pain.  It occurs when costochondritis is accompanied by swelling in the areas surrounding the cartilage. The swollen and inflamed area around the cartilage may be tender to the touch and the skin overlying the cartilage may be reddened.

Physical Therapy for Costochondritis

Costochondritis symptoms oftentimes improve from treatments that are effective with arthritis pain. Treatment typically includes a combination of rest, physical therapy, analgesics to control pain, and anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil, Motrin, Aleve.  Physical therapy treatments may include ice, thoracic mobilization, techniques to facilitate breathing, and stretching exercises. In some cases of severe pain, cortisone injections or surgery have been utilized- with mixed results.

How to Get Treatment for Costochondritis

Therapy Achievements specializes in treating pain and mobility limits that are associated with cancer. Our therapists have advanced training in manual therapy techniques designed to reduce pain and swelling and enhance flexibility and movement. We have a satellite clinic located inside Clearview Cancer Institute to provide services to patients balancing chemo or radiation schedules. Call us to schedule(256) 509-4398

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