Costochondritis Relief: How Physical Therapy Can Help

costochondritis physical therapy

Costochondritis, although not life-threatening, can be a painful and bothersome condition. It can lead to inflammation in the cartilage that connects your ribs to the breastbone (sternum). This inflammation can result in chest pain and discomfort, often mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack. While rest and over-the-counter pain relievers may help, physical therapy can also play a significant role in managing and alleviating the pain associated with costochondritis. In this blog, we are going to delve into the role of physical therapy in managing costochondritis, exercises to relieve pain, and tips for long-term relief. So, let’s jump into it.

Understanding Costochondritis And Its CausesUnderstanding Costochondritis And Its Causes

Costochondritis is a medical condition characterized by inflammation in the cartilage that connects the ribs to the breastbone or sternum. The condition leads to chest pain and discomfort, particularly when moving or taking deep breaths. While costochondritis is not typically a serious or life-threatening condition, it can cause significant pain and mimic the symptoms of more severe cardiac issues, such as a heart attack.

Understanding the causes of costochondritis can help individuals recognize the factors that contribute to this condition. While the precise cause of costochondritis is not always clear, several factors may contribute to its development:

  • Physical Injury or Trauma: Direct trauma to the chest, such as a blow or injury from a car accident, can damage the cartilage in the ribcage, leading to inflammation and costochondritis.
  • Repetitive Strain: Activities that involve repetitive movements or overuse of the chest muscles, such as heavy lifting, strenuous exercise, or frequent coughing, can strain the cartilage and lead to inflammation.
  • Viral Infections: In some cases, viral respiratory infections, such as a severe cough or a viral illness like the common cold, can trigger an inflammatory response in the ribcage cartilage.
  • Joint Inflammation: Conditions like ankylosing spondylitis or rheumatoid arthritis, which involve inflammation of the joints, can also affect the costochondral joints and lead to costochondritis.
  • Costosternal Syndrome: This is a term used to describe localized pain in the costochondral junctions without clear inflammation. It may be related to structural issues or muscular imbalances.
  • Unknown Causes: In many instances, the exact cause of costochondritis remains unknown, and it may occur spontaneously.

Role Of Physical Therapy In Managing CostochondritisRole of Physical Therapy In Managing Costochondritis

Physical therapy plays a valuable role in managing costochondritis by helping individuals reduce pain, improve mobility, and prevent the condition from recurring. The primary goals of physical therapy for costochondritis are to alleviate discomfort, strengthen the affected area, and improve posture. Here’s how physical therapy can aid in managing this condition:

  • Pain Management: Physical therapists employ various techniques to alleviate pain and inflammation. These may include applying ice or heat, gentle manual therapy, and modalities such as ultrasound.
  • Range of Motion Exercises: Restricted movement in the chest due to pain can lead to stiffness. Physical therapists design exercises that focus on improving the range of motion in the chest and ribcage. These exercises help individuals regain flexibility and reduce discomfort during movement.
  • Strengthening Exercises: Strengthening the muscles around the chest and ribcage can provide better support to the affected area. Physical therapists design tailored exercise programs that target these muscle groups, enhancing stability and reducing strain on the inflamed cartilage.
  • Postural Correction: Poor posture can exacerbate costochondritis. Physical therapists educate patients on proper posture and design exercises to improve alignment. By addressing postural issues, individuals can reduce stress on the chest area and alleviate pain.
  • Breathing Techniques: Breathing exercises can help individuals with costochondritis breathe more comfortably. Physical therapists teach techniques to reduce shallow chest breathing and encourage diaphragmatic breathing, which can reduce strain on the ribcage.
  • Home Exercise Programs: Patients are often given home exercise programs to continue their rehabilitation independently. These exercises are designed to maintain progress and prevent the recurrence of costochondritis.
  • Pain Relief Strategies: Physical therapists may recommend self-care strategies such as self-massage, heat or ice applications, and over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Gradual Return to Activities: Physical therapists guide individuals in gradually returning to their regular activities, including work, exercise, and hobbies, to prevent re-injury.

Exercises To Help Manage Costochondritis

Specific exercises for costochondritis focus on gently stretching and strengthening the chest and ribcage muscles while avoiding movements that exacerbate pain. Here are some specific exercises to consider:

Pectoral StretchPectoral Stretch

  • Stand in an open doorway with your arms bent at 90-degree angles and your forearms resting against the doorframe.
  • Gently lean forward, allowing your chest to open up and stretch. You should feel a gentle stretch in your chest.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then relax. Repeat several times.

Thoracic Extension Stretch

  • Sit or stand with your back straight.
  • Place your hands on your lower back with your fingers pointing downward.
  • Gently arch your upper back and lean backward, aiming to stretch the upper chest and ribcage.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat several times.

Wall Press ExerciseWall Press Exercise

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, facing a wall.
  • Place your palms flat against the wall at shoulder height.
  • Slowly lean your body weight into the wall while keeping your arms straight. This exercise helps gently stretch the chest muscles.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat several times.

Supine Chest Opener

  • Lie on your back on a comfortable surface with your knees bent and feet flat.
  • Place a rolled-up towel or foam roller vertically along your spine.
  • Allow your arms to open up to the sides, forming a T-shape with your body. This exercise helps stretch the chest and improve posture.
  • Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds, then relax. Repeat as needed.

Resisted Shoulder Blade SqueezesShoulder Blade Squeezes

  • Sit or stand with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  • Hold a resistance band or towel between your hands, pulling it gently apart.
  • While maintaining tension on the band or towel, squeeze your shoulder blades together.
  • Hold for a few seconds, then release. Repeat 10-15 times.

Breathing Exercises

  • Practice deep diaphragmatic breathing to promote proper chest expansion and reduce shallow breathing patterns that can exacerbate chest pain.

Gentle Range of Motion Exercises:

  • Slowly and gently move your arms through a pain-free range of motion to maintain joint mobility without causing discomfort.

Lifestyle Changes to Manage CostochondritisLifestyle Changes to Manage Costochondritis

Managing costochondritis involves not only exercises and physical therapy but also making lifestyle adjustments to reduce pain and prevent flare-ups. Here are some lifestyle changes that can help manage costochondritis:

  • Ergonomic Workstation: If you have a desk job, ensure that your workspace is ergonomically designed. Use an adjustable chair, maintain proper posture, and position your computer screen at eye level to minimize strain on your chest and upper back.
  • Avoid Heavy Lifting: Refrain from lifting heavy objects or engaging in activities that strain your chest muscles, as this can aggravate costochondritis. If lifting is necessary, use proper lifting techniques and engage your core muscles.
  • Modify Exercise Routine: While staying active is essential, modify your exercise routine to avoid activities that worsen your symptoms. Low-impact exercises like swimming, walking, or stationary cycling are usually better tolerated.
  • Proper Breathing Techniques: Practice diaphragmatic breathing to ensure you’re using your diaphragm and not overusing the chest muscles during respiration. This can help reduce tension on the chest wall.
  • Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, fatty fish (rich in omega-3s), and whole grains. Avoid or limit foods that may increase inflammation, such as processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-fat foods.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Excess body weight can put added strain on your chest and ribcage. Aim for a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise.
  • Avoid Tight Clothing: Tight-fitting clothing, especially around the chest area, can compress the ribcage and worsen symptoms. Opt for loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Good Sleep Habits: Ensure you have a comfortable mattress and pillows that support your spine and maintain proper alignment while sleeping.
  • Limit Repetitive Movements: Minimize activities that involve repetitive chest movements, such as deep chest stretching or excessive twisting, which can irritate the affected area.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Costochondritis

The recovery time for costochondritis can vary widely from person to person and depends on several factors, including the severity of the condition, the effectiveness of treatment, and the individual’s overall health. In many cases, costochondritis is a self-limiting condition, meaning it typically improves on its own over time. However, with appropriate treatment and lifestyle modifications, individuals can often expedite their recovery.

Here are some general guidelines for the recovery time associated with costochondritis:

  • Mild Cases: Mild cases of costochondritis may resolve within a few weeks to a couple of months with rest, gentle exercises, and over-the-counter pain relievers. These cases often respond well to conservative management.
  • Moderate Cases: For moderate cases, where pain and discomfort are more persistent, recovery may take several months. Physical therapy and exercises to strengthen the chest muscles and improve posture can help speed up the healing process.
  • Severe or Chronic Cases: Severe or chronic cases of costochondritis may take several months to a year or more to resolve fully. These cases may require more aggressive treatment approaches, such as corticosteroid injections or other medications to reduce inflammation.
  • Individual Factors: Individual factors play a significant role in recovery time. Factors like age, overall health, adherence to treatment recommendations, and the presence of underlying medical conditions can influence how quickly someone recovers from costochondritis.


In conclusion, costochondritis can be a painful and limiting condition, but with the right approach, it is manageable. Physical therapy plays a crucial role in relieving symptoms, improving mobility, and enhancing the overall quality of life for individuals dealing with costochondritis. By combining targeted exercises, gentle stretches, and posture awareness, physical therapy helps reduce pain, prevent recurrences, and promote long-term healing.

However, it’s important to remember that successful management of costochondritis often requires a holistic approach. Lifestyle modifications, stress reduction, maintaining a healthy weight, and good posture all contribute to the overall effectiveness of treatment.

Physical Therapy helps patients recover from pain. If you’re experiencing Back, Shoulder, Knee, Neck, Elbow, Hip, or Arthritis pain, a physical therapist at PhysioMantra can help: Book an online physical therapy session.