Oh, Costochondritis: Wish You’d Stop Giving Me A Ribbing

Laughter is the best medicine, unless, of course, you have costochondritis.

Months ago I had a cough.  Then I developed rib pain.  It was so painful I thought I’d cracked a rib.  Went to the doc.  They took x-rays and said nothing was cracked, so that meant I had costochondritis.  That’s inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs, usually caused from a prolonged or hard cough.  The doctor suggested I take Aleve.  I did that and modified some of my exercises because certain things just hurt too much to do.  A month later it was mostly gone when I sneezed and found myself back at square one.  (It was not a good day and a pint of ice cream was consumed.)

This round was even worse, for about two days driving hurt, breathing hurt.  I was scared to move.  I was terrified to sneeze.  I couldn’t get comfortable in bed.  I went back to the doc sure that I’d done something worse.  Nope.  It was still just costochondritis.  Doctors don’t get up in arms about costochondritis.  They act like it’s no big deal.  But I make my living moving.  And movement is what keeps me sane, so it’s a bid deal to me.    This time they doubled my dose of Aleve (something I don’t recommend doing unless under supervision of the doctor), recommended regular ice sessions, suggested rubbing a muscle relaxer on and was told not to do ANYTHING that aggravated it.  That was laughable.  Everything aggravated it.  Breathing was bad.  I was told no Pilates, running or swimming for at least three weeks or until all symptoms were gone, not close to gone.

In my world this is a mini disaster.  Movement is my drug of choice.  My situation could be so much worse, and that is what I keep telling myself.  This isn’t permanent.   I’ve learned to appreciate pain in my body because I always learn something when I ache.  I’m aware that everything is connected and when one part of the body moves it affects another.  Now I’m living that.  I can feel it firsthand. We don’t think about how our ribs and stabilizer muscles work with every little thing we do.  It’s no shocker that opening a door hurts or turning the steering wheel, but I’m amused to notice it hurts when I alter the way I walk on ice.  It only proves the benefits of Pilates.

I couldn’t stomach the double dose of Aleve for more than a few days, so I’m back to following the directions on the box, still icing, still trying not to move.  And it’s been a week and two days.  I’m leaps and bounds better.  But still nervous that something will set it back to square one.  I can’t wait till I move and feel nothing in my ribs.  I’m still not doing my favorite exercises, but I have to walk.  Over the weekend, after a big snow storm Matt and I went for a stroll.  About a mile in I told him that I wasn’t in pain, but I was aware of my ribs.  They hurt a little.  He said we should head home.  I wanted to continue on stroll in the much needed fresh air.  “But the doctors said…”  I was torn.  I knew walking longer might slow down recovery.  I wasn’t supposed to push through any level of pain.  But I took the longer walk.  I opted for mental sanity.

Not moving goes against everything I know about the body.  And I’m going to appreciate all my workouts when this is over, even the ones that don’t go well.

So for anyone out there who has costochondritis, here’s what I think it working to help me:

  1. Massage
  2. Muscles Rubs
  3. Regular Ice
  4. Aleve (but there are a downsides to this including stomach cramps and water retention)
  5. Attempting to immobilize the ribs cage and right arm
  6. Self-splinting when I sneeze, cough or laugh
  7. Tumeric
  8. Talking to people because when I found out my rib wasn’t cracked I felt like a big baby. Turns out if you’ve had costochondritis (and lots of people have) you know it hurts.
  9. And referring to it as cost-o-coitus because it makes me feel better and because I blame Matt for the original cough that set the ball rolling.

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2018-02-14T15:45:17+00:00

About the Author:

Maggie Downie
Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.

7 Comments

  1. Lorna Andersson February 6, 2015 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Maggie, I’m a Gyrotonic & Gyrokinesis teacher and Pilates Instructor living in Hong Kong. A new client told me during his assessment that five years ago he had an episode of costochondritis. It hasn’t come back but I know from the way he talked about it that the thought of a recurrence fills him with dread. Do you have any exercise recommendations (both to avoid, and to do) as I design his program? Any ideas you could share would be so greatly appreciated. Best wishes, Lorna

    • Maggie Downie
      Maggie Downie February 10, 2015 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      Hi Lorna,
      Thanks for getting in touch (and reading the blog). I can completely understand why he would dread the idea of costochondritis returning. So my first point would be to make sure you have an open dialogue with him. Ask him to tell you if any movement makes him get a sense (no matter how limiting) of that pain returning. Be clear that you need him to tell you in the moment, not when the exercise is over. If he gets the feeling that pain is coming back, I’d stop the movement immediatley.
      What hurt the most in my body was flexion (in nearly every form, but definitely when lying supine and lifting my head and shoulders off the ground) and extension, but only when I was lying prone so the floor or carriage was putting pressure on my ribcage. Also my costochondritis was on my right side and it was exacerbated by moving my right arm. So if he’s concerned, I might be cautious with those moves. That being said, ideally you can ease him into this kind of movement, especially if he hasn’t had pain in five years. Ask him if he can remember what type of movement aggravated him when he was in pain. He could have had a different experience.
      If he’s been bracing out of fear, then his ribcage might be very rigid. I’ve notice that and have only been dealing with it for a few months. In that regard, Pilates is the place to regain spinal mobility. But do everything gently (spinal rotation, cat stretch, hip rolls, shoulder bridges, gentle side bends). The good thing about Pilates is that if he is scared to do some moves, Pilates has so much that can challenge his core stability. But I’d work within his comfort zone. For the most part nothing holding imprint bothered me. So the 100 with the head down, lower and lift, toe taps. There are lots of options in that category. Also, try having him lay on a foam roller and do any exercise that doesn’t involve flexion. You can do arm work with weighted balls or leg lifts holding imprint. Obviously your choice will be determined by any other injuries, his fitness level and comfort zone.
      What I also think would be helpful (again, going back to the possibility he’s become rigid around the ribcage) is to mobilize the ribs seated. Do gentle, small rib slides like your are shifting the ribs like a type writer side to side. Try to get him to circle the ribcage like he’s tracing the inside of a barrel. Have him try to just gently wiggle around his ribs—almost as a warm up to loosen up. And he can work on breathing all the time (and different types of breathing—lateral, belly breath, 3D breath). There is a great exercise called the zeppelin. I’ll give you a link.
      I hope this is a start and at least a little helpful. Most importantly I’d say ease in, work to his level and wait to do any exercise he’s not comfortable with. It’s not going to be beneficial if he grips and braces in order to feel safe. So progress as he’s ready.
      And, I’d say if no movement hurts him try it, maybe starting with a few less reps to make sure he doesn’t hurt the next day. Massage has also been a life saver. My massage therapist is also an OT and she has done specific massage of my ribcage. A huge help. Plus ice would be great after his workout. Good luck and please keep me posted.

  2. Maggie Downie
    Maggie Downie February 10, 2015 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    The link is not coming through for some reason. If you go to my youtube page, EuphoriaPilates, the video is under: Zeppelin Shoulder Exercises for Shoulder and Lat Mobility

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