What is Sternum (Breastbone) Pain ?
The sternum pain is a characteristically bruised or sharp pain in sternum area. In some instances, the bone may produce cracking noises (sternum pain popping). In some cases, the pain is harmless. However, in case of persistent pain in sternum bone, contact your doctor immediately.
Anatomy of Sternum Area
The lungs and the heart are some of the most important organs in the thoracic cavity. The thoracic cavity is covered by sternum, ribs, and the vertebral column.
Picture 1 – Sternum
Source – health
The sternum is also known as the breast bone and is a flat bone which is located at the chest. As the name suggests, the breast bone (sternum) is surrounded by the breasts in the human body. The common sternum is about 17 cm in length.
The sternum prevents the thoracic cavity and surrounding organs from damage. It also joins the ribs and the shoulder bones.
Parts of Sternum
- Upper manubrium: The upper section of the sternum.
- The middle sternum body (corpus): The sternum body joins different ribs.
- Xiphoid process: It starts as a section of cartilage.
Lower Sternum Pain (Below Sternum)
When you experience pain below sternum, the affected part is the lower xiphoid process.
Pain below sternum is also known as xiphoid affliction and occurs as a result of coronary artery or bone problems. The lower pain sternum can be very severe making it difficult for one to raise or twist anything. The effects may be concentrated in one region and may spread to other portions of the sternum.
The sternum is a strong structure that would need a lot of impact for sternum fracture to occur. Sternum fracture is a major cause of pain the sternum for those involved in car accidents. This is as a result of the force of the steering wheel on the rib cage. Majority of sternum fracture accidents are able to get full recovery. However, this depends on the extent of the fracture.
Pain under Sternum (Breastbone)
Pain below sternum is common in case of cardiac and respiratory disorders.
Sternum Pain during pregnancy
Sternum pain during pregnancy is due to acid reflux.
Warning Signs of Fracture and Pain in the Sternum
In case you have the following signs of sternum fracture, seek medical help as soon as possible.
- Coughing or vomiting blood
- Breathing problems
- Reduced palpitations
- High fever
- Regular vomiting
- Severe abdominal pains, back pains, chest pains,
Sternum pain causes
The major sternum pain causes include;
Costochondritis refers to inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs and their sides. The condition is common mostly with young adults. The chances of contracting the condition are high if you participate in strenuous physical activities.
Tietze syndrome is the inflammation of rib cartilage. It is major cause of sharp pain the sternum. This is, however, a minor problem that results from failure of the lungs to expand and contract apropriately. At the initial stages, the condition may be worse but it improves with time.
Heartburn is a burning feeling mostly felt at the lower sternum. Heart burns or reflux are commonly mistaken as heart attack.
These are a common result of road accidents as a result of the force of the steering wheel on drivers.
This is felt at the joint between the ribs and shoulder bones. This can be caused by arthritis although this is rare. It may also be caused by extreme exercises such as lifting of heavy weights. Recently, people are gradually changing into more health-oriented lifestyles. After working hard in the gym, you are left feeling pain in the centre of the chest. Sometimes you feel the pain just for a few minutes. In other times, sternum pain may persist. In such cases, it is advisable to contact a doctor as soon as possible. Pain in the sternum affects both sides of the breast bone.
Pectoral Muscle Pain
Pain in the pectoral muscles and the intercostal muscles of the ribs could result in sternum pain. The intercostals muscles strains hard during periods of difficult or induced breathing leading to pain. Respiratory complications such as asthma and bronchitis can cause sternum pains as a result of induced or forceful breathing.
Pleurisy is caused by common diseases of the lung like pneumonia and tuberculosis. The problem involves inflammation of the lung lining resulting in pain during breathing process. Treatment for this condition starts with getting medical care from your doctor.
Cardiac problems such as heart attack, angina, coronary artery disease, myocarditis and pericarditis can cause sternum pain.
Psychological factors like anxiety, apprehension and fear or panic attacks also play a role in sternum pain. In some cases, the affected persons may get very frightened at a perceived heat attack or death.
Surgery in any part of the thoracic cavity can result in sternum pain for many years to come.eg open heart surgery.
Other rare causes of sternum pain include:
- Lung cancer
- Upper abdominal discomforts causes pain below sternum
- Stomach ulcers causes sternum pain after eating
- Injured ribs
- Bone cancer
- Too much physical exercises.
Sternum Pain Diagnosis
Although pain in sternum area should not be mistaken for heart attack, failure to diagnose it in early can result in dangerous consequences. Immediate diagnosis and appropriate treatment are meant to prevent other health complications such as lymphoma or chondrosarcoma.
The past medical condition of the affected person can be used during the diagnosis of sternum pain.
Tests like x-rays, CT-scan, and MRI can be carried out to show the affected areas.
Sternum Pain Treatments
Sternum pain treatment in children
Sternum pain discomfort in children can be treated using acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Pain killers such as aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) cortisteroids should not be used for treating children but only at the recommendation of a doctor.
a) Acetaminophen: It reduces fever and sternum pain. However, it does not reduce inflammation. The prescribed dose should be taken as per the recommendations of your doctor. The medication should not be used in children affected by liver disease. It should also be taken according to the instructions. This is because the strength of this medication differs per package. Popular acetaminophens include Panadol and Tylenol.
b) Ibuprofen: It is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) reduces both sternum pain and inflammation. The drug should be accompanied by food for children aged 13 and over. It important to stick to the recommended dosage. The packet instructions should also guide the parent or guardian. The drug should not be administered in children suffering from liver, stomach, and kidney or bleeding complications. Common examples of ibuprofens include Motrin, Advil and Nuprin.
c) Naproxen: This drug reduces pain, fever and inflammation. It is also a non steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. As usual, follow the recommendations of the doctor. The drug should also not be administered in children suffering in liver, stomach, kidney, or bleeding complications. Naproxen is available as Aleve.
Sternum pain treatment in adults
The sternum and ribs are joined by the cartilage. Injury to the sternum causes fever, pain and inflammation.. Pain relief medicines can be used to treat mild or moderate sternum pain and costochondritis. To cope with sternum pain effectively, it is important to be sure of the cause of the pain. To reduce the effects of pain, you can apply heat or cold ice on the affected region. In cases where bacteria have been diagnosed as the causative agent of sternum pain, antibiotics should be administered. Acute sternum pain treatment includes medicines such as corticosteroids. In addition, injections (cortisone) may be administered. If there is no change in cases of chronic or acute sternum pain, surgery may be used to remove the affected cartilage. The sternum should be adequately protected from any further damage.
The doctor should be in a position to prescribe the best medication depending on the severity of the pain. However, note that you can get rib belts to prevent further damage of the rib from any external forces.
In addition, the doctor can carry out various tests such as X-rays, MRI, or CT-scan tests to ascertain the damaged tissues. Take care when in the shower or bedroom as they are the most risky areas for you to reinjure your cartilage. A condition like costochondritis can be very painful, but there is no cause for alarm because the condition is never fatal.
Home remedy for Sternum Pain
Before using any cure for costochondritis make sure that the condition is diagnosed in the right manner. This will remove possible fears for lung complications or heart attack. This is because the feeling of pain may be concentrated in one region such as at the centre of the chest. Some people often get frightened easily. However, the condition cannot be termed as life threatening.
The most appropriate home remedy for pain in the sternum due to costochondritis is rest and applying of warm clothing on the affected region. It is important for the patient to enjoy enough rest to speed up the process of recovery from pain in sternum. During this period, a piece of clothing that has been put in warm water can be pressed on the affected area. This provides heat that relieves pain in sternum area.
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Written by Anju Mathew
on July 18th, 2011. The article was last updated on August 29th, 2011