Upper Back Pain and Sternum Pain

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Q: I sometimes have discomfort in my sternum and upper back. Any suggestions?

A: The pain you describe could result from a number of causes, including serious conditions such as heart disease or lung disease. Without seeing you and getting additional information, pinpointing the exact cause would be difficult.

However, one common cause of pain in the sternum and corresponding area of the back is costochondritis, an inflammation in the cartilage that connects the ribs to the sternum.

Costochondritis may be caused by activities such as heavy lifting and intense exercise or by infections and the inflammation may result in localized, sharp pain or discomfort where the rib and sternum meet. Deep breathing, coughing, sneezing and other movements may aggravate the condition by moving the ribs and pulling the cartilage between the ribs and breastbone.

If your chest pain seems to be tied to physical exertion, ease up on your fitness efforts and give your body a chance to heal. Talk with your doctor about an appropriate exercise regimen for the future and safe lifting techniques to prevent reinjuring yourself.

In addition to rest, it may be helpful to use a heating pad to soothe the affected area.

Other potential causes of upper back and chest pain could include muscle strain, poor posture, a pinched nerve, a fracture, osteoarthritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease. Without seeing you in person, I cannot say what specific treatments might help relieve your pain.

I suggest you follow up with your family physician or an orthopaedic surgeon about your continued pain. I would be happy to offer a second opinion if needed. If you would like to make an appointment, you may do so by calling my office at (412) 359-3682 or you can make an appointment online,or you can always get more information on West Penn Allegheny physicians by calling (412) DOCTORS  (412) 362-8677.

Best wishes for your recovery.

Marc Itskowitz, MD
Internal Medicine physician, Allegheny General Hospital