Costochondritis is an uncomfortable condition that is characterized by inflammation of the cartilage in the rib cage, and while some physical activity can aggravate it, there are specific costochondritis exercises as well as lifestyle adjustments available to treat the problem.
Costochondritis, also known as Tietze syndrome, normally affects the cartilage in the area where the upper ribs attach to the breastbone. This part of the body is called the costosternal joint, hence the name of the condition.
Costochondritis exercises benefits
A common costochondritis symptom is a pain in the chest that can make breathing difficult. There are many studies that show inflammatory conditions can improve when exercises are used to relieve tension in the affected areas. This is true with back pain, and some research has suggested that costochondritis can improve with the right exercise program.
Exercises can release pain-relieving and relaxing endorphins. It also can improve blood flow so that injured areas can heal as well as decrease tension in muscles and joints to improve mobility. The important point to remember, especially with costochondritis, is to avoid strenuous exercise and exercises that will put too much pressure on muscles in the inflamed area. It is important to learn what costochondritis exercises really are.
Stretches to relieve costochondritis pain
Costochondritis stretches are the basis of what most doctors recommend for those who suffer from this condition. Many people find that with stretching, they are able to breathe easier. If you suffer from costochondritis and are thinking of trying stretches to ease your discomfort, keep in mind that you need to start slowly and gently. You don’t want to strain against the stretch.
Here are some stretches to consider:
Pectoral muscle stretch
Standing with your side facing the wall or doorway, raise your arms to the side and bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle. Rest your forearm against the wall and with your elbow at shoulder height, lean forward a little to stretch your chest muscles. Breathe and relax into the stretch, holding it for about 30 seconds before you release and repeat it on the other side.
Double-sided strong pec stretch
You can gain a stronger pectoral stretch by placing both arms on either side of a doorframe with elbows bent and hands raised.
Pectoral muscles can be stretched more thoroughly by repeating stretches with slight variations. For instance, you can rest your elbow and forearm on the wall or door higher or lower than your shoulders, then stretch your arms directly above your shoulders on top of the doorframe.
Stability ball pectoral stretch
Using a fit ball, kneel with the ball to one side and lean forward, bend your arm to 90 degrees, keeping your elbow at shoulder height and resting your forearm on the ball. Bring your upper body down to stretch the pectoral muscles.
Stability ball lying chest stretch
Sitting on the ball, roll down until your upper back is lying on the ball and your legs form a bridge. Lay arms out to the sides so they drop below your body and stretch your chest out. You should roll back and forth to help relax your back and try to breathe evenly.
Foam roller stretches
Lay your back on a foam roller with your arms out to the sides and both elbows and knees bent. Hold this pose in a relaxed fashion for about 20 seconds or move your arms slowly along the floor as if you are making a snow angel. Stop if you feel too uncomfortable.
One common mistake that people with costochondritis make is that they stop doing their stretching exercises as soon as pain has disappeared. When you do this, you run the risk of the pain returning. Once the pain is gone, it is a good idea to discuss with a health care provider what types of stretches you can do to further strengthen the muscles and help avoid recurring costochondritis.
Yoga poses for Costochondritis
Costochondritis yoga poses can be very helpful for reducing pain. While poses that support body weight such as downward dog or bridge can make costochondritis pain worse, restorative yoga—which is a gentle form of exercise—can be good for sufferers. Restorative yoga can lead to muscle relaxation, tension release, and improve blood flow to help relax the ribcage muscles.
The following list covers some of the costochondritis yoga poses sufferers have benefited from:
This pose, which is also known as corpse pose, involves laying down flat on your back on a cushioned surface with your eyes closed. You place your arms along your side and leave your palms open, facing upward. Slowly relax different sections of your body while breathing slowly, deeply, and gently. After 10 to 20 minutes, you can roll over onto your right side, lie for a minute, and then gently sit up.
At an open space near a wall, sit down so that your feet are on the floor in front of you and the left side of your body is touching the wall. Exhale and then lie on your back, making sure the back of your legs press against the wall while the soles of your feet face upwards. Place your buttocks slightly away from the wall and make sure your back and head are resting on the floor. Your body should be forming a 90-degree angle. Lift your hips up and slip a prop under them. Close your eyes and breathe. Hold the position for about five minutes then roll to any side and take a breath before you sit up.
Sitting on the floor, move over onto your right buttock, bend your knees, and swing your legs to the left. Place feet on the floor outside your left hip with your left ankle resting in the right arch, then inhale and lift through the sternum to stretch the torso. You should be keeping the left buttock on the floor. Tuck your left hand under your right knee and bring your right hand to the floor beside your right buttock. Now pull the left shoulder back slightly as you twist your chest to the right. You can also turn your head by looking over the left shoulder. With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum and with every exhalation, twist a little more. You can stay like this for 30 seconds to one minute.
Virsana (hero pose)
Kneel on the floor and spread your legs apart so your butt is touching the floor in between your feet. Turn thighs inward and press into the floor with the bases of your palms. You can then lay your hands in your lap with palms facing up. Lift the top of your sternum and stay like this for 30 seconds to one minute.
There is also the Balasana or child’s pose, which is a kneeling pose with arms forward to keep your chest open and stretched, the Tadasana; a basic standing post that focuses on breathing, the Urdhva hastasana, which is a chest and abdomen opening stand, and the Virabhadrasana or warrior post, which is a strong standing pose with open arms or arms up that stretches the chest.
Costochondritis diet tips
Along with exercises and yoga, a costochondritis diet can assist those who are suffering. Avoiding foods that promote inflammation can be helpful, as can increasing the consumption of foods that are known to contain anti-inflammatory effects. For instance, foods high in flavonoids are helpful in reducing inflammation. This includes spinach, blueberries, and strawberries. Eliminating soft drinks, sugar, and junk foods from the diet is a good idea. Some people with costochondritis suggest that caffeine also aggravates the condition, so you might want to consider giving up or at least lowering the amount of coffee and tea you drink.
It can be helpful to start introducing more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, keep a record of food you eat, and track your pain level. The Mediterranean diet is said to assist in controlling inflammation. It emphasizes fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, and olive oil.
The chest pain that comes with costochondritis can range from mild to severe. In mild cases, the pain may be short-lived and require little to no treatment, while severe cases may cause prolonged pain or even shooting pains that are unbearable and interfere with day-to-day living. If you have chest pain that is severe, you should seek immediate medical attention. When the diagnosis is costochondritis, you can take comfort in knowing that lifestyle adjustments are likely to help you recover without any lasting problems.
Related: Burning sensation in chest: Causes, symptoms, and treatment